HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Law enforcement officers across the state are working to recall thousands of bench warrants.
This comes after the state Supreme Court issued a memorandum ordering judges to stop jailing low-level offenders.
"They decided after a meeting that they're going to call all existing bench warrants for failure to appear," Tom Fox, with the Horry County Sheriff's Office, said.
The HCSO will be working over 900 man hours to pull thousands of warrants. According to Fox, that number is approximately 7,696.
"We remove them to where they can't be validated," he said. "So we took them off the books and currently our staff is removing them from our database."
Out of the 7,696 warrants, 2,656 are from the magistrates office, 4,634 are traffic court warrants and 226 are domestic violence bench warrants.
A bench warrant is issued when a defendant does not appear in court.
S.C. Supreme Court Judge, Donald Beatty issued a statement reading, in part, that "it has continually come to my attention that defendants, who are neither represented by counsel nor have waived counsel, are being sentenced to imprisonment."
"Instead of issuing a warrant immediately, they will issue a letter requesting they appear back in court. Then if they don't come back ,there will be a second letter so they will show a pattern of conduct that they're not showing up for court," Fox said. "It's a shock because you're expected by law to appear in court and if you don't appear you can be arrested for failure to appear."
In the past, people who fail to pay fines or don't show up for court on misdemeanors or traffic violations could be put in jail, sometimes until their bills are paid or their maximum jail terms are served.
"The decision by the chief justice was if you didn't have the money to pay, they can't send you to jail. They have to set up a payment plan for you," Fox said. "So those that don't have the money to pay their fines, it's going to be more friendly for them. The magistrates, once they meet, they'll come up with a protocol of how they'll deal with future failure to appears."