Each municipality in South Carolina has the power to choose if they want a Municipal Court or not. These courts are part of the state’s unified justice system and handle matters within their local jurisdiction. If a municipality chooses, they can use a Magistrate Court in place of a Municipal Court to hear the same types of cases. When this happens, the Supreme Court Chief Justice delegates authority to the Chief Summary Court Judge of the county to supervise and assign a magistrate to the court. Two hundred municipalities have Municipal Courts.
The types of cases handled in Municipal Courts are local ordinance violations, offenses where the fines are $500 or less, and imprisonment is 30 days or less. They also handle traffic violations, and in some municipalities, domestic violence, DUI/DWIs, and forgery. Per S.C. Code Ann. § 22-3-545, Municipal Courts can hear cases that come from the General Sessions Court, where the fines are $5,500, and jail time is one year or less.
Municipal Court judges have the same authority and duties that magistrates do. However, Municipal Courts do not serve civil cases, only criminal. The term that a Municipal Court judge serves is set by the council of the city but cannot be more than four years and cannot be less than two years. Municipal Court judges are required to undergo specialized training or pass a certification exam. They must complete the task within one year of accepting the position. Additionally, each judge must also pass a recertification exam within eight years after their initial exam and every eight years after.
Along with a Municipal Court judge, the law provides that municipalities may also hire a full or part-time recorder and establish an office of the ministerial recorder. This office is responsible for accepting bonds and issuing warrants.