The state's Court System consists of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, and layers of trial courts including Circuit Courts, Family Courts, Magistrate Courts, Probate Courts, Municipal Courts, and also Masters-in-Equity who are specialized judges with a keen interest in equity issues. The judicial system includes additional components like the Attorney General’s office, legal boards and commissions, along with the Court Clerk’s Office.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and the court of last resort. It has both appellate and original jurisdiction. Most cases seen at the Supreme Court level come from the Court of Appeals, Family or Circuit courtrooms. The seven types of classes that the Supreme Court deals with directly are:
1) The Death Penalty.
2) Public Utility Rates.
3) Significant Constitutional Issues.
4) Public Bond Issues.
5) Election Laws.
6) An Order Limiting the Investigation by a State Grand Jury.
7) An Order of a Family Court Relating to an Abortion of a Minor.
The Supreme Court also has supervisory and rulemaking authority over all other courts in the unified justice system. SC Supreme Court has one Chief Justice and four Associate Justices. Justices are elected by the General Assembly and serve ten-year terms.
Most appeals from the lower courts will start in the Court of Appeal and if necessary, move up to the Supreme Court.
Most court information in the state will be available to the general public. Some records may be accessed online, and others can be obtained in person from the Court Clerk of the courthouse where the event took place. However, as with many other states, sealed, expunged, and juvenile records will not be available. Additionally, federal laws mandate that things like children’s names, home addresses, social security numbers, tax IDs, mailing addresses, p.o. box addresses, banking information and corporate trade secrets, along with other security information or personal identifiers be removed from records before they are made public. Patrons of the court can consult the clerk of court to find out more about what is available.
SC has a section on their judicial branch website (sc.gov) where users can search for forms. They offer three types of form search: by court type, by title, and by form ID. Forms can be downloaded, printed, filled out, and returned to the court to file manually. SC also offers e-filing for patrons of the trial courts. They have training videos and a policies and guidelines document to help people use the system. Attorneys can use the e-filing system more extensively than litigants and file in most court types. Before using the system, everyone needs to register to set up an account and then log in. Visitors can also find the code of laws, court contact information, the court administration office, court forms, jury duty details, a list of human resources for the court, office hours, and pay fees and online payments by credit card.
Did you know you can use the Infotracer tool to easily search for public records in minutes? Access thousands of court cases from the entire state, including Lexington, Columbia, Greenville County, Richland County, and Charleston County. According to the Freedom of Information Act S.C. Code Ann. §30-4-10 to 30-4-55, Infotracer’s extensive database includes SC criminal records, dockets, register of deeds, civil cases, family court issues like divorce, court rosters, liens, probate matters, bankruptcies and more.
You can perform a records search anytime day or night without reason and without asking permission. Most court records are legally available except for juvenile records and other court-ordered sealed files.
Using a state records search by name, you can get free instant access to SC court records from most courts in the state. Infotracer is the best way to lookup cases online from SC circuit and family courthouses, magistrate courts, probate and municipal courts and also masters-in-equity courts in all 16 judicial circuits.
In 2012, the South Carolina courts received 365,236 filings. In 2016, the number of filings increased by 227.1% and counted 1,194,791 filings and had 1,195,784 outgoing cases
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Domestic relations caseload of South Carolina at year end of 2015 has increased by 1.3% compared to the last 4 years.
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Circuit Courts are the general jurisdiction courts for the state. These courts are the highest trial courts. These courts are split into two divisions: one for civil proceedings called the Court of Common Pleas and the other for criminal actions called the Court of General Sessions. Along with jury and bench trials, These courts also handle appeals for Probate Courts, Magistrate Courts, and Municipal Courts along with administrative agency appeals. The state is divided into sixteen judicial circuits with these courts in each one and at least one resident judge. Judges have offices in their home county and rotate among the sixteen circuits. They serve six-year terms.
The state unified their court system in 1976 and with it established Family Courts. These courts have exclusive jurisdiction over domestic or family relations matters. Some types of cases seen in these courts are divorce, custody, termination of parental rights, alimony, child support, adoption, division of marital property, legal separation, visitation, and name changes. They also handle matters of juvenile delinquency, child abuse, neglect, and safety. These courts have at least two judges per judicial circuit with a total of 58. These judges rotate among the circuits, and they serve six-year terms.
South Carolina’s Magistrate Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. There are 311 magistrates here. They serve the county in which they are appointed. The state Governor appoints magistrates for four-year terms. Each magistrate must pass an exam and attend courtroom training before being appointed to office. Magistrate Courts handle criminal cases where the fine is $500 or less, or the sentence of prison is 30 days or less. They also handle traffic violations, domestic violence cases, DUI/DWIs, forgery cases, and civil cases of $7,500 or less. They also set bail, handle preliminary hearings, and issue search and arrest warrants.
South Carolina’s Probate Courts are county-level courts of limited jurisdiction. Judges from each county are elected as the probate judge to a four-year term. These courts have jurisdiction over estates of deceased persons, minor settlements of $25,000 or less, marriage licenses, guardianship of minors, and mentally ill people who need to be involuntarily committed to mental institutions. They can also handle trusts and wills. These courts have concurrent jurisdiction with Circuits over powers of attorney. SC has 46 these court judges.
Each municipality in South Carolina has the right to establish a Municipal Court to hear cases within its jurisdiction. These courts are part of the unified justice system and therefore under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court. In some cases, a municipality will instead use a Magistrate Court in the county. Municipal Courts hear cases involving local ordinance violations where fines do not exceed $500 or prison sentences do not exceed 30 days. They can also assume cases that are transferred from Circuit judges, where the penalties are up to $5,000, and prison sentences are one year. Municipal Court judges serve varying terms, but none can exceed four years.
SC Governor appoints Masters-in-Equity for six-year terms. Some serve full time and some part-time. Circuit Courts refer cases to Masters-in-Equity, and they have limited jurisdiction over matters of equity. These specialized judges are experts in equity issues. SC has 21 Masters-in-Equity. Appeals from these matters go to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. Twenty-three counties have a Masters-in-Equity. Patrons can contact the Masters-in-Equity directly or through the Court Clerk of the judiciary branch.