COLUMBIA --- Aiken County isn't likely to be greatly affected by a new law that places warrant requests in the hands of law enforcement officials instead of private citizens, says the county's chief summary court judge. But other counties such as Edgefield and Barnwell could feel the changes, said the chief magistrate, Roger Edmonds.
At a meeting of the state's chief magistrates in Columbia on July 9, Judge Edmonds said there was plenty of talk about the new law, which took effect last month. The law was intended to prevent an individual from seeking arrest warrants against another party for illegitimate reasons.
"They feel the same as I do, that it's probably a good thing in some respects, but it may hurt the local, small merchants," he said.
The reason, Judge Edmonds said, is that merchants seeking recourse after receiving a bad check would have to go to their local solicitor's office and pursue criminal charges against an offender or seek a "courtesy summons" from the magistrate.
Under the old law, if a merchant received a bad check, he would go to the magistrate's office, swear under oath to the circumstances and obtain a criminal arrest warrant for the offender.
Under the new law, the magistrate may no longer issue a criminal warrant in that case. Instead, a merchant may seek criminal charges against the writer of a bad check from the fraudulent check unit of the solicitor's office. The merchant may obtain only a "courtesy summons" from the magistrate, which is then served by law enforcement to the check writer. At issue is whether local law enforcement officials will have the resources to serve the summons, which requires an individual to show up in court.
Judge Edmonds said some counties do not have a fraudulent check unit like Aiken County's, and that would leave merchants with only the option of the courtesy summons, and the chance that law enforcement would have to prioritize more serious crimes.
For other misdemeanors, however, area officials predict less noticeable effects from the new law.
In the city of Aiken, "99 percent, if not 100 percent" of warrants issued are already handled by law enforcement, Public Safety Lt. David Turno says.
"We don't leave it up to the citizen to swear out the warrant," he said. The officer questions the victim and decides whether there is probable cause for a warrant.
The new law, Lt. Turno said, would not change how they operate.