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South Carolina Court Records

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What are South Carolina Criminal Court Records?

South Carolina criminal court records refers to all documented information generated during criminal court proceedings. This information includes, but is not limited to, sworn affidavit, witness testimonies, deposition tapes, trial transcripts, plaintiff and/or defendant information and records of court actions, motions filed and judgments.  In line with the South Carolina Code of Laws, requests for copies of these records can be made by members of the public. Criminal court records for the state of South Carolina are maintained by the South Carolina judicial branch.

Understanding the South Carolina Criminal Court System

The South Carolina court system consists of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and the Trial Courts. The trial courts further comprise the Circuit Courts, Family Courts, Probate Courts, Magistrate Courts, and Municipal Courts. These courts exercise varying judicial authorities to hear felonies, misdemeanors and infractions in the state.

Supreme Court

The state’s highest court, South Carolina’s Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and four associate justices. The court has appellate jurisdiction over all the other state courts and exercises exclusive jurisdiction in matters of appeals involving circuit court cases with a death penalty sentence, family court cases involving an abortion by a minor, judgments involving constitutional challenges to state statutes or local ordinances, state grand jury investigations, and circuit court judgments involving public bonded indebtedness, elections, and public utility rates.

The Supreme Court reviews the transcripts and all other relevant documents involved in the court proceedings of the appeals brought before it and may either affirm, modify or reverse the decisions of these courts. The South Carolina Supreme Court is also responsible for promulgating rules of administration, practice, and procedure for the state courts and has the sole power to admit attorneys to the South Carolina state bar as well as carry out any disciplinary action against lawyers and judges involved in situations tantamount to ethical misconduct.

In addition to this, the South Carolina Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over the other state courts, but limited jurisdiction over federal district courts in the state which attend to federal crimes within the judicial district. Nonetheless, certain actions are initiated in the state Supreme Court. However, this usually only happens under unusual circumstances, typically with cases that have garnered highly significant public interest.

Court of Appeals

The South Carolina Court of Appeals consists of a chief judge and eight associate judges who sit either as a whole or in panels consisting of three judges each when hearing appeals. With the exception of cases that are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the state supreme court, this court is responsible for hearing all appeals from the circuit and family courts.

Circuit Courts

The South Carolina judicial branch is divided into sixteen judicial circuits, each of which has at least one resident circuit judge. The Circuit Courts have general jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases in the state of South Carolina and can be located in each county in the state. In addition to this, the Circuit Courts also have limited appellate jurisdiction over appeals from the probate, magistrate and municipal courts.

Magistrate Court

Magistrate Courts generally have jurisdiction over criminal cases involving offenses subject to the penalty of a fine not exceeding $500 and/or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days and civil cases in matters involving a maximum of $7,500. Magistrate Courts are also responsible for setting bail, conducting preliminary hearings and issuing search warrants as well as arrest warrants.

Municipal Courts

Municipal Courts have general jurisdiction over any criminal cases arising under the municipal ordinances of a municipality and over all offenses which are subject to a maximum fine of $500 and/or a sentence of imprisonment not exceeding 30 days which occur within the municipality. In addition to this, Municipal Courts may also hear cases transferred from circuit courts that have a penalty not exceeding a period of imprisonment for one year and/or a fine of $5,000. Municipal Courts are typically established through an ordinance by the council of a municipality to hear and determine cases that fall within the court’s jurisdiction in the municipality. However, not all municipalities establish municipal courts. They may either choose to prosecute their cases in magistrate courts or in some cases, establish the municipal court and utilize the services of a magistrate judge to serve as its municipal judge, on contract with the county governing authority.

Masters-in-Equity

This is a specialized division of the Circuit Courts that hears cases without a jury and only handles cases referred to them by the circuit courts. Masters-in-Equity Courts have the power to regulate proceedings in hearings before them and take any and every necessary proper measure required to carry out an efficient performance of their duties under the order of reference. Some of these measures include ruling on motions, calling witnesses and examining these witnesses under oath, requiring the production of evidence and ruling on the admissibility of any evidence produced. Appeals from cases heard in these courts go to either the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.

What’s included in a South Carolina Criminal Court Record?

In South Carolina, court records generally share similar features and comprise similar information. However, there might be slight variances in the total amount of information readily available in these records, depending on the type of court where the case was handled as well as the type of case and offense(s) involved. In most cases, criminal court records typically contain the following information:

  • Case details
  • Information on the defendant and/or the plaintiff
  • Criminal charge(s) details
  • Actions taken on the case
  • Case status

In addition to these, criminal court records also generally include the name of the judge(s), any legal counsel, hearing dates, hearing times, hearing type, court location, motions, briefs, and pleadings.

Obtaining South Carolina Criminal Court Records

Pursuant to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, members of the public who wish to request for copies of criminal court records may do by any of the following means:

  • Inspecting and/or obtaining these records in-person
  • Sending mail-in requests to the appropriate record custodian
  • Accessing records online
  • Utilizing a third-party aggregate site

How Do I Access South Carolina Criminal Court Records in Person?

This is the primary method for obtaining court records in the state of South Carolina and is also recommended for interested parties who wish to obtain as much case information as possible. Parties who wish to obtain criminal court records in person may do so through the following steps:

Identify The Right Court

Interested parties who wish to gain access to criminal court records will need to identify the particular court where the case in question was filed/heard. Criminal cases in the state of South Carolina generally fall under the jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts. South Carolina’s judicial branch is divided into sixteen judicial circuits, and at least one Circuit Court can be located in each county.

Gather Case Information

Under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, interested parties who wish to access criminal court records are not required to provide a statement of purpose. However, these parties are required to provide the records custodian with any relevant information necessary to facilitate a records search. This information usually includes, but is not limited to, the name of the defendant, the victim’s or the witness’s name(s), the case number and the date the original charge(s) was filed.

Visit the Court Record Custodian

Criminal court records for the state of South Carolina are maintained by the office of the Clerk of Court in each county. After the interested party has identified the right court, a request to inspect and/or copy the court records can be made in person at the office of the clerk of court. The South Carolina judicial branch maintains an online county map that contains up to date contact information on the state’s clerks of court.

Provide Identification and Pay Any Required Fees

After the court, record custodian and criminal court records have been located, parties who wish to obtain physical copies of these records will be required to provide a form of identification, usually a government-issued photo ID and pay a fee, which is usually calculated by the type of record being copied and the number of copies required. This fee may vary depending on the court.

How Do I Find South Carolina Criminal Court Records by Mail?

The general process for obtaining criminal court records via mail typically involves sending a written request to the record custodian. This request should contain details of the criminal court case, details of the requestor and should be sent along with appropriate payment (usually money orders or checks made out to the court) to cover records search fees and/or the total number of copies of the record(s) required. A self-addressed envelope should also be included. It is important to note that these requirements are not exact, therefore interested parties are advised to contact the record custodian for any additional requirements and also to establish that the option of obtaining criminal court records by mail is available at the court where the records are domiciled. South Carolina criminal court records custodians can be contacted through the information available in the online county map provided above.

How to Find South Carolina Criminal Court Records Online?

The South Carolina judicial branch provides members of the public with online access to criminal court records through its Case Records Search database. This database allows interested parties to search for records by county, name or case number.

Interested parties who wish to obtain copies of criminal courts records but are unable to do so in person may have the option of obtaining publicly available records through third-party aggregate sites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:

  • The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
  • The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name

Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.

Are all South Carolina Criminal Court Records Public?

The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act defines public records as all documentary materials prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body. In accordance with this act, criminal court records are considered public and can be inspected and/or obtained by members of the public, except where stated otherwise by statutory law.

How do I find South Carolina Public Records for Free?

Interested parties can request for and inspect public records for free by contacting the appropriate record custodian. However, for records that prove elusive, a search fee may be charged. There are also fees charged for obtaining copies of these records as well as for any necessary redactions from these records. In addition to this, the state of South Carolina also provides free online access to court records through the Case Records Search database mentioned above.

Can I Access Sealed South Carolina Criminal Court Records?

In accordance with South Carolina state law, sealed criminal court records can only be accessed by eligible interested parties. In most cases, these eligible interested parties are either authorized members of a law enforcement agency or officers of the court. However, these records may also be obtained by members of the public that can obtain a court order authorizing the unsealing of the record.

Are all Juvenile Criminal Court Records open to the Public?

In accordance with the South Carolina Code of Laws Title 63 Chapter 19, all juvenile records in the state of South Carolina are confidential and can only be accessed by authorized parties which include, but are not limited to, the juvenile’s attorney(s) and the court judge. Parties who claim to have a legitimate interest in these records and can adequately prove that interest may be granted a court order allowing them access to these records. However, in situations where these records are required in the defense of an action initiated against a minor, a court order may not be required.

What Records are Automatically Sealed by South Carolina Statute?

The state of South Carolina does not automatically seal any public records. Some of these records are considered exempted and therefore public bodies are not statutorily required not to disclose them to members of the public. Some of these records include:

  • Juvenile records
  • Certain law enforcement records
  • redacted inmate records
  • Personal information in situations where such a disclosure might constitute an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy
  • Trade secrets
  • Information which violates attorney-client privilege
  • Information that may reveal the identity of a person that makes a complaint or discloses information alleging the violation or potential violation of the law

Are Trial Transcripts Open to the Public?

Yes, they are. Trial Transcripts fall under the South Carolina definition of public records and so are open to the public. These records are usually created and maintained by court reporters. In the South Carolina judicial branch, parties to the case can obtain copies of transcripts by contacting the court reporter assigned to the proceedings. Requestors who weren’t party to the case and wish to access copies of transcripts must provide a court order.

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