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Where to Find South Carolina Civil Court Records

South Carolina civil court records are documents generated or collected during the event of court proceedings of civil cases held within the state court system. Civil court procedures are governed by the Code of Laws Title 15- Civil Remedies and Procedures of the state. A record is opened for every complaint that is filed with the court having jurisdiction over the case. Progress on the matter is documented and filed for reference. Civil court cases are heard as appeals in appellate courts of the state, and preliminary or exclusive hearings in trial courts. The courthouse office clerk has responsibility for keeping civil court records of cases heard within its jurisdiction. Here, interested persons can access case information. Persons seeking civil court information can use third-party aggregate sites like SouthCarolina.CourtRecords.Org to locate them.

Are South Carolina Civil Court Records Public?

Civil court records in South Carolina are a part of public records in South Carolina. Therefore the documents are accessible under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Law. The law provides for access to information necessary to preserve the transparency of the legal system. However, the contents of a record that identify individuals in the community are viewed as confidential by law. As a result, the documents are removed from public view. Confidential information includes names and contact addresses, driver's license IDs, social security numbers, financial information, data about minors, child custody information, and personal identifiers of victims involved. These portions of a civil court record are often filled out separately and redacted from public viewing. Only the persons involved in the case, the legal representatives, and other court or state-authorized individuals can view the redacted details of a court record. When a file is sealed in its entirety, it becomes restricted from public access, and only authorized persons can view it.

Types of Cases in South Carolina Civil Courts

Civil cases present in different categories and levels of jurisdiction. Except for civil appeal cases, all the trial courts in South Carolina hear at least one type of civil case. The lowest trial court is the Municipal Court, which hears only cases of ordinance violations. Municipal Courts do not have any jurisdiction over civil matters. Instead, the court holds preliminary hearings of civil violations or imposes court orders from higher courts of jurisdiction at the local level.

Magistrate courts have limited jurisdiction over civil cases. Some of the cases heard here are contract claims, damages to personal property or real property, fines and forfeitures, collateral attachment for debts, and claims of less than $7500. Others include but are not limited to land-lord tenant disputes, rented property matters, bonds. Suppose one of the parties to the case is a state agency, Magistrate Courts transfer such cases to the Circuit Court for hearing.

Family Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over civil matters on domestic relations in the state. These courts share jurisdiction with Magistrate Courts in juvenile cases and wildlife ordinance violations. Family courts also share jurisdiction with Probate Courts over civil matters about paternity, estates, wills, and guardianships. Probate Courts hear cases involving the power of attorneys such as wills, conservatorships, and settlement claims for minors and the disabled less than $10,000.

Circuit Courts are the trial courts of the highest jurisdiction in the state. Circuit courts handle cases of claims greater than $10,000 and hold an exclusive hearing for civil cases in the state, such as:

  • Tort
  • Contract disputes
  • Class action lawsuits
  • Breach of contract
  • Equitable claims
  • evictions/ restraining orders

What is the Difference Between Criminal Cases and Civil Cases in South Carolina?

Both criminal and civil cases often involve some kind of injury to public or private legal entities. However, there are apparent differences between criminal cases and civil cases:

  • Civil cases are filed at the prerogative of the victim with the court, while the state files criminal cases.
  • Civil cases involve violations of human rights, while criminal cases involve offense that threatens public safety.
  • Civil cases are often resolved by the payment of a fine unless there is a criminal contempt of court displayed by an involved party that necessitates incarceration. Criminal cases, on the other hand, are often punished with prison sentences or death.
  • Civil cases go through a more straightforward court procedure, while criminal cases take a longer and more rigorous process. It is because the trial's outcome must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that an individual is guilty or otherwise.
  • Civil cases are resolved with the aim of restoring relief to the plaintiff. On the other hand, criminal cases are tried to serve penal justice to the offender and restore public safety.
  • Civil cases may or may not have jury trials. Jury trials are a regular feature of criminal trials unless the defendant makes a plea bargain.

How Do I Find Civil Court Records In South Carolina?

The standard procedure for requesting to view or copy records is to do so in person or by mail. Original copies of civil court records are found at the office of the courthouse clerks in the state. Circuit court clerks have multiple functions within the county: circuit court clerks serve as county clerks, maintain family court records, and also serve as the Register of Deeds for the county. Lower trial courts maintain the records of the cases held within the courts' jurisdictions. Persons seeking to access civil records from lower trial courts should contact the courthouse office for more information. Some vital records such as birth, death, marriage, divorce, and other land records, also constitute civil court records. Each county has an Office of the Register of Deeds that maintains copies of vital records. At the state level, eligible persons can send a request to the Vital Records sections of the State Department of Health and Environmental Control.

To locate civil court records, first, assemble the necessary information regarding the case. Have all the facts and evidence that may be of interest. It includes the name of the person(s) listed in the record, the case number, the location address of the court where the case was filed, the date when the claim was filed, and the county where it took place.

The next step is to identify the courthouse where the case was finalized. There are two appellate courts in the state of South Carolina: one Supreme Court, and one Court of Appeals. Furthermore, there are 16 judicial circuits within the state, comprising 46 Circuit Courts (one per county), and several other trial courts of lower jurisdiction. Use the South Carolina Judicial Department Website to locate the court of interest. There are two Circuit Courts in each county:

  • General Sessions
  • Common Pleas

After the courthouse is located, prepare the request and submit either in person at the courthouse or by mail. All trial courts in South Carolina accept and process in-person submissions of record requests. It is the quickest route to obtaining court records for several reasons. First, the requester waits to receive feedback on the request. If there is a need to clarify information about the request, it is done right away. It eliminates the possibility of delay in processing. Unless otherwise indicated, most courts accept cash payment options for in-person requests in addition to other payment options. An additional advantage of in-person requests is that persons wishing to view records for free are availed of the opportunity. The cost of copies is reduced to the actual processing price instead of mailed requests that may attract mailing or shipping charges. Mailed requests should be addressed to the relevant court address. Most counties require a self-addressed return envelope and a clear copy of a valid photo ID of the requester. Cash payments are not accepted for mail requests. The only accepted mode of payment is a money order or certified check. A few counties also accept electronic applications, such as options to obtain these records through email, fax, or a phone call. Contact the court of interest to collect information in this regard. For vital records, submit the request in person or mail to:

DHEC Vital Records
2600 Bull street
Columbia, SC

Alternatively, locate the nearest Vital Records Branch Office and submit the request.

How Do I Find Civil Court Records Online?

Some counties like Georgetown provide an online database of civil court case information. Others do not have county-based online access to records but hold case records in the South Carolina Judicial Branch Website. Here, all 46 Circuit Courts have case records available online through the database. Except for Family Courts, all courts lower than Circuit Courts require on-site requests for records. For municipal courts, use the Interactive Map to locate the court of interest. Also available in the directory for Magistrate Court Judges. Anyone with a compatible device and an internet connection can access online case information. There are, however, a few limitations:

  • Confidential information or sealed records are not available online. Some of them are:
  • Records of income tax returns, medical assessments, educational information, adoption records, registration ID information.
  • Records sealed by court order
  • Case information may not reflect immediate updates in the progress of the case
  • Online information is considered uncertified by the court authority

What Is Included In a South Carolina Civil Court Record?

The nature of a case and degree of complexity usually reflects in the contents of the record. The essential features of a civil court record include:

  • Information about the parties involved- full names, addresses, names of attorneys, and the court's address.
  • Copies of filed complaints, court summons, and receipts of court fees
  • Notice of rights of involved parties
  • Amendments to complaints or claims, and filed affidavits
  • Documented evidence
  • Defendant's counterclaim or plea
  • Written or audio transcripts, dockets
  • Court dispositions, judgments, and enforceable orders
  • Restraining or protection orders

How to Access South Carolina Civil Court Records For Free

Free access to civil court records in South Carolina is primarily by an inspection of court records at the courthouse of interest. Online access to court records is also free to view, while copies are available for a fee. The cost of copies is determined by the following:

  • The form document requested, which could be as hard copies, electronic format, audio transcripts, or index information
  • The labor involved in processing the request
  • The presence of additional delivery charges such as post or shipping fees
  • The volume of the request

How to Seal Civil Court Records in South Carolina

According to South Carolina state law, a sealed record is not available for public disclosure except to a law enforcement agency delegate, representing attorneys, or persons with a court order. The persons listed in the record also have unrestricted access to the sealed record.

A record can be sealed based on court discretion or, an involved party can file a petition to seal his or her court record. Some of the reasons for sealing under the state laws are:

  • To ensure a fair trial;
  • To get the cooperation of witnesses who request for secrecy
  • The professional or public implications of the case
  • The perceived potential harm of public knowledge to the involved parties
  • Case of dismissed charges or overturned conviction that need to be removed from open access pending the final expunction

To seal a civil court record, one of the involved parties must file a petition with the court. The petition is set for a hearing, during which the court decides if the petition has merit. If it does, the judge issues a court order to seal up the record. Although the file is invisible to public access, it is accessible by the involved parties, and court-authorized agents. Note that sealed records have a validity period. Some are sealed for a set period, while others may be sealed permanently.

How to Access Sealed Civil Court Records in South Carolina

Sealed records are inaccessible to members of the public. To unseal a record, an individual must challenge the court order by filing a petition to unseal the document—the process of unsealing begins with hearing the petition in court. Suppose the basis for the request to unseal is deemed reasonable, the individual is issued a court order with which he or she proceeds to request the record. Note that petitions to unseal a file does not lead to the removal of restrictions for the general public; it only permits access to the petitioner.

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