Horry County to begin virtual court hearings next week amid COVID-19 concerns

Horry County to begin virtual court hearings next week amid COVID-19 concerns

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - The world continues to adapt to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, including our court system.

The Horry County judicial system will start holding virtual court hearings in an effort to practice social distancing and keep people safe.

Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said the virtual system will be used for plea court and bond hears starting on Monday, April 13.

This change will help knock out between 75 to 100 cases in the upcoming week and keep the judicial system moving forward for the time being.

“These people have to go somewhere and we pride ourselves of getting them moved through the system within a year,” said Richardson.

Richardson said the judicial system in Horry County hasn’t been significantly impacted because his team was on a scheduled break right before the coronavirus impacted our area. But now they’re preparing a little differently as court hearings resume virtually.

“We are up and running again on April 13, we’re going to do a lot of jail pleas and a lot of motions from the jail,” said Richardson.

As cases do start to pile up, the virtual system will allow the county to flush out several dozen cases, which helps release pressure off the jail system at J. Ruben Long Detention Center.

Normally an inmate would be transported from J. Reuben Long Detention Center to the Horry County Judicial Center before going in front of a judge. They’re then sent back to jail where they are either locked back up or released.

However, with this new virtual court system, all that travel is eliminated as the person in custody stays at the prison while their lawyers and the judge are on one video conference call.

“These are some steps we’ve been talking about for quite a while,” said Richardson.

Horry County overall has seen a decrease in crime over the last month.

Horry County Police Chief Joe Hill said their calls for service for the month of March were down about 200, which he attributes to the tourism season being put on hold.

Richardson said the solicitor’s office has been talking about virtual hearings for several years, but some judges have been hesitant about switching to an online system.

“There’s no other way to do it,” said Richardson.

If this is successful, Richardson wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the new normal moving forward for plea court hearings.

As for when trials will resume, that remains unknown at this time.

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