Are South Carolina Court Records Public?
Title 30 Chapter 3 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, also known as the state's Freedom of Information Act, defines public records as all documentary materials, regardless of their physical form or characteristics, owned, prepared, in possession of, used, or retained by a public body. Per this law, which was enacted in 1978, South Carolina court records are considered public records, and members of the public have the right to inspect and copy them.
How Do I Find Court Records in South Carolina?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in South Carolina is identifying the right court. There are two types of courts in South Carolina: Trial Courts and Appellate Courts. Trial Courts consist of Circuit, Family, Probate, Magistrate, and Municipal Courts, while the Appellate Courts consist of the state’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Any person who wishes to find court records needs to identify the particular court where the case of interest was filed and heard.
The next step to take is to contact the appropriate record custodian. Appellate court records are maintained by the Clerk of the Supreme Court and the Clerk of the Court of Appeals, while Trial Court records are maintained by the respective Clerks of Court for the counties where the courts are located.
The Appellate Court Clerks of Court can be contacted using the information below:
Clerk of the Supreme Court
Supreme Court Building
1231 Gervais Street
Columbia, SC 29201
Phone: (803) 734-1080
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays
Clerk of the Court of Appeals
1220 Senate Street
Columbia, SC 29201
Phone: (803) 734-1890
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays
Individuals can obtain contact information for the Trial Court Clerks of Court from the state judicial system’s online directory.
Before a court record can be accessed, the requester must provide certain information on the case. This information is necessary to aid the record custodian in speedily locating the requested records. It typically includes the names of the parties involved in the case or the case number. The requester may also be required to present a valid government-issued photo ID and pay any applicable fees before obtaining copies of these records. The fees charged for court records vary by county.
The South Carolina Judicial Branch also provides the public with online access to trial and appellate court records through its Case Search and Search Opinions portals, respectively. Interested parties can access records through these portals by performing name-based or case number-based searches.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. To gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
How Do South Carolina Courts Work?
South Carolina’s judicial system consists of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, Family Courts, Probate Courts, Magistrate Courts, and Municipal Courts. The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals handle appeals while the rest of the courts conduct jury and non-jury trials.
Parties that wish to file cases in South Carolina must begin at the trial courts. The Circuit Courts have general jurisdiction over all cases filed in the state, but they typically handle the matters outside the jurisdiction of the other courts. Family Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over juvenile and domestic relations matters, while Probate Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over probate matters. The Magistrate and Municipal Courts have limited jurisdiction over certain criminal and civil cases.
When a case is tried in a South Carolina trial court, the parties present evidence and testimonies, which are considered before the judge issues a judgment. Judgments issued in Trial Courts are not final, and they can be appealed to the state’s Appellate Courts.
All appeals made in the South Carolina Judicial Branch must be filed with the state’s Court of Appeals except for the following:
- Appeals from Circuit Court cases that involve a death penalty sentence
- Appeals from Circuit Court orders that set public utility rates
- Appeals from Family Courts cases that involve abortion by a minor
- Appeals from cases that involve a constitutional challenge to either a state statute or a local ordinance
- Appeals from Circuit Court orders that limit State Grand Jury investigations
- Appeals from election-related matters
- Appeals from Circuit Court cases that involve public bonded indebtedness
These appeals are made directly to the South Carolina Supreme Court because they fall under its exclusive jurisdiction.
South Carolina Appellate Courts do not allow appealing parties to enter new testimonies or evidence into consideration when they review cases. Instead, these courts review the transcripts and other relevant records of the cases’ proceedings in the Trial Courts, along with briefs submitted by the appealing parties before issuing their decisions. A decision issued by the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court in a case affirms, reverses, or modifies the decision that was previously issued by a lower court.
Decisions issued by the Court of Appeals can be appealed to the Supreme Court. However, once the Supreme Court issues a decision on a case, this decision cannot be appealed any further in South Carolina. Note that in some rare cases, the United States Supreme Court may grant a petition from an appealing party to review a South Carolina Supreme Court decision. However, this only happens in matters that involve federal law or the United States Constitution.
Justices and judges in the South Carolina court system are appointed through different methods:
- Supreme Court justices and judges in the Court of Appeals, the Circuit Courts, and the Family Courts are appointed through a joint public vote of the South Carolina General Assembly. Candidates are screened and approved by the state’s Judicial Merit Selection Commission before they can be deemed eligible for the General Assembly vote. The Supreme Court justices serve 10-year terms, while the Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, and Family Court judges serve six-year terms.
- Probate Court judges are appointed through partisan elections conducted in the counties where the courts are located, and they serve four-year terms.
- Magistrates of the Magistrate Courts are appointed by the State Governor with the State Senate’s advice and consent. Candidates are recommended by the county’s senatorial delegation where the court is located, and appointed magistrates serve four-year terms.
- The municipal councils of the various municipalities appoint Municipal Court judges, and they serve terms of between two and four years.
What Are Civil Court and Small Claims in South Carolina?
The South Carolina Circuit Courts have general jurisdiction over all civil matters heard in the state. South Carolina Small Claims Courts, divisions of Magistrate Courts also have limited jurisdiction over certain civil matters, including small claims cases where the amounts in controversy do not exceed $7,500.
The procedure for trying small claims cases in the Magistrate Courts is generally simpler, less expensive, and less formal than the other courts’ proceedings in the South Carolina judicial system. In most cases, the parties involved do not need to have their attorneys present. However, it is advisable to seek appropriate legal advice before filing a small claims case.
What Are Appeals and Court Limits in South Carolina?
An appeal is a request that asks a court to review a lower court’s trial proceedings and decisions. Appeals are usually made by parties that are unsatisfied with the decision of a court in a legal matter.
In the South Carolina judicial system, appeals are usually made from Circuit and Family Courts to the Court of Appeals. Appeals from the Probate, Magistrate, and Municipal Courts are heard first by a Circuit Court before they can be filed with the Court of Appeals. In some cases, appeals are made directly to the South Carolina Supreme Court. This happens if the case involves a matter that is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. There are seven types of matters that belong to this category, and they are:
- Death penalty cases
- Matters involving an abortion by a minor
- Matters involving public utility rates
- Matters involving investigations of a State Grand Jury
- Matters involving public bonded indebtedness
- Election-related matters
- Matters that involve constitutional challenges to a state statutes or local ordinances
When an appeal is filed with the Court of Appeals, the appealing parties are required to submit written arguments known as briefs and all relevant records from the Trial Court’s proceedings. The Court of Appeals is made up of nine judges that hear cases in panels of three judges or en banc. A case is heard en banc when the entire bench hears it. Usually, the Court of Appeals sits en banc only in matters that involve questions of exceptional importance or matters that require the full court’s consideration to maintain a uniformity of its decisions.
The South Carolina Court of Appeals does not consider new evidence, testimonies, or witnesses during appeals. All the court considers are the appealing parties’ documents and any oral arguments these parties present. Note that these oral arguments are presented at the discretion of the court. After the necessary documents have been submitted, and the appealing parties have presented oral arguments, the judges retire to review the case and issue a decision. Once a decision has been issued, unsatisfied parties can file a motion for a rehearing of the case. If this motion is denied or the rehearing still returns an unfavorable decision, then the case can be further appealed at the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The South Carolina Supreme Court is the highest court in the state’s judicial system, and it consists of five justices who are considered the final authority on all legal matters in the state. Except for the matters under its exclusive jurisdiction, this court typically reviews cases only after the Court of Appeals has reviewed them. However, the Supreme Court may review cases that have not been heard by the Court of Appeals. This usually happens if the case involves an issue of significant public interest, has a legal principle of great importance, or other unusual circumstances.
As in the Court of Appeals, the South Carolina Supreme Court issues a decision after reviewing the records of proceedings in the lower courts, the briefs and other relevant documents submitted by the appealing parties, and any oral arguments that may have been presented. The South Carolina Supreme Court is a last resort court; therefore, any decision it issues after reviewing a case is considered the case’s final decision.
Even though unsatisfied parties have the right to file an appeal in the State of South Carolina, they must meet certain time limits before the case can be considered for review:
- A notice of appeal from a Circuit Court civil case or a Family Court domestic relations matter must be served to all respondents no later than 30 days after the appealing party receives a written notice of entry of the court’s decision
- A notice appeal from a Family Court juvenile matter or a Circuit Court criminal case must be served to all respondents not later than ten days after the appealing party receives a written notice of entry of the court’s decision or ten days after a sentence is imposed for cases that result in a conviction or revocation of probation
- All notices of appeal must be filed with Appellate Courts not later than ten days after they have been served to the respondents
- A petition for a rehearing of a case in the Appellate Courts must be filed not later than 15 days after the decision was issued
- Appeals made to the Supreme Court from the Court of Appeals must be made not later than 30 days after the Court of Appeals has ruled on motions for rehearing
What Are South Carolina Judgment Records?
South Carolina judgment records are court documents detailing the court's determination of a lawsuit, the specific issues adjudicated, as well as the remedies awarded or penalties imposed on case parties. The creation of a judgment record is the end of most cases in South Carolina unless the case continues via an appeal in a court of higher jurisdiction.
A judgment becomes official when the clerk of court files the judgment record into the court docket. This document also becomes public information per the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act. To obtain judgment records in South Carolina, find out the case identifying information, especially the case number and the names of the parties involved. Then, visit the clerk's office in person during business hours and submit an official request.
The court staff will require the case identifying information and payment of associated court fees before processing the request. Cash, money order, certified checks, and credit cards are acceptable payment options. Upon retrieving the case record, the court officer will make regular copies of the judgment record and hand them out to the requester. Regular copies suffice for most informational purposes, but certified copies of judgment records are also available upon request.
What are South Carolina Bankruptcy Records?
South Carolina bankruptcy records provide financial information about debtors who are unable to repay creditors. Filing for bankruptcy helps provides some financial relief for some debts. However, certain debts, such as government loans, school loans, and child support tax obligations, cannot be discharged by filing for bankruptcy. The most common bankruptcy filings in South Carolina are chapter 7 and chapter 13.
Records of legal proceedings and contracts in South Carolina can be found in county courthouses across the state. These documents include bankruptcy papers, judgments writs, and South Carolina liens. Interested persons may query the appropriate office to request these records. However, they will be required to provide information to facilitate the search.
How Do I Find My Case Number in South Carolina?
Case numbers in the South Carolina judicial system are unique number and letter combinations that identify the year, court, and county in which a case was filed in the state. These numbers are assigned by a Clerk of Courts when the initiating document of a case is filed. Case numbers are important in the court system because they help interested parties monitor trials’ progress and quickly access any required documents from these cases.
Parties interested in finding and getting the case number of a case initiated in the State of South Carolina may do so by contacting the Clerk of Court in the county where the case was filed. Alternatively, case numbers can also be obtained using the Case Record Search portal provided by the South Carolina Judicial Branch. Note that knowledge of specific details, such as the names of the parties involved in the case, is required before a case number can be obtained.
Can You Look up Court Cases in South Carolina?
You can look up court cases in the State of South Carolina by contacting the Clerk of Courts in the county where the matter was heard. Note that the payment of a fee is usually required before requestors can obtain copies of court records. The South Carolina Judicial Branch also maintains a Case Record Search portal that provides the public with access to some court records free of charge. With this portal, interested parties can search for court records via several criteria that include case number, name, court type, and case type. Finally, South Carolina court records can also be accessed and obtained by employing a third-party website’s services.
Does South Carolina Hold Remote Trials?
Yes, the State of South Carolina holds remote court proceedings. In an order issued on April 3, 2020, the South Carolina Supreme Court authorized the use of remote communication technologies in conducting certain court proceedings. According to this order, which was amended on 16th December 2020, remote communications technology may be used in the following proceedings:
- Non-jury trials
- Preliminary hearings in criminal cases (remote hearings can only be held if there is no objection from the defendant)
- Administration of oaths
In addition to this, the South Carolina Supreme Court maintains and regularly updates a video portal that provides interested members of the public with remote access to live streams of oral arguments presented before the court and archived videos of oral arguments that were previously presented.
What Is the South Carolina Supreme Court?
The South Carolina Supreme Court is the highest court in the South Carolina Judicial Branch. This court has appellate jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases filed in the state. The South Carolina Supreme Court typically accepts appeals from cases that have already been heard in the Court of Appeals, except for cases under its exclusive jurisdiction like death penalty cases and election-related matters. These types of cases are appealed directly from Circuit Courts or the Family Courts. The Supreme Court is also responsible for the admission of individuals into the practice of law in the State of South Carolina and promulgating the rules that govern all the courts in the state.
The South Carolina Supreme Court has five justices appointed by a joint public vote of the state’s General Assembly and serve 10-year terms. These justices have the final say in all legal matters handled in the State of South Carolina.
South Carolina Court of Appeals?
The South Carolina Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court. This court accepts appeals from the South Carolina Circuit and Family Courts except in cases that involve the following:
- A death penalty sentence
- An abortion by a minor
- Election-related matters
- Constitutional challenges to local ordinances or state statutes
- State Grand Jury investigations
- Public utility rates
- Public bonded indebtedness
The South Carolina Court of Appeals consists of nine judges. The South Carolina General Assembly appoints these judges. Court of Appeals judges typically review cases in three-judge panels. However, some cases may be reviewed by the entire bench. Decisions issued in this court can be appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
South Carolina Circuit Courts?
The South Carolina Circuit Courts are the state’s general jurisdiction Trial Courts. They handle matters that are outside the jurisdiction of the other Trial Courts. The Circuit Courts are divided into two divisions, a Court of General Sessions that handles criminal matters and a Court of Common Pleas that handles civil matters. The Circuit Courts also hear appeals from the Probate, Magistrate, and Municipal Courts.
The South Carolina judicial system is divided into 16 judicial circuits with at least one resident judge and several rotating judges. The South Carolina General Assembly appoints these judges, and they serve six-year terms. Appeals from this court are made to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.
South Carolina Family Courts?
The South Carolina Family Courts are Trial Courts with exclusive jurisdiction over all juvenile and domestic relations matters filed in the state. However, juvenile cases that involve serious criminal charges are typically transferred to the Circuit Courts where the juveniles involved are tried as adults.
Family Court judges serve six-year terms, and they are appointed by the South Carolina General Assembly. Appeals from this court are filed to the Court of Appeals except in special cases appealed to the Supreme Court.
South Carolina Probate Courts?
The South Carolina Probate Courts are limited jurisdiction courts that handle probate matters like the guardianships, deceased persons’ estates, and the involuntary commitments of mentally ill or chemically dependent individuals. The Probate Courts also have jurisdiction over the issuance of marriage licenses in the State of South Carolina. Probate Court judges are appointed in partisan elections, and they serve four-year terms. Appeals from these courts are directed to the Circuit Courts.
South Carolina Magistrate Courts?
The South Carolina Magistrate Courts are Trial Courts in the South Carolina Judicial Branch that have jurisdiction over civil cases that do not exceed $7,500 in controversy and criminal cases that are punishable by fines of not more than $500, jail terms no longer than 30 days, or both. The Magistrate Courts are also authorized to conduct preliminary hearings, set bail, and issue arrest and search warrants. Magistrates are appointed by the State Governor with the consent of the State Senate, and they serve four-year terms. Appeals from this court are filed at the Circuit Courts.
South Carolina Municipal Courts?
The South Carolina Municipal Courts are limited jurisdiction courts with jurisdiction over municipal ordinance violations, offenses committed within a municipality, which are punishable by a maximum penalty of $500 in fines, up to 30 days imprisonment, or both. Municipal Courts also handle criminal cases transferred from the Circuit Courts punishable by up to $5,000 in fines, imprisonment of up to one year, or both.
The municipal councils appoint Municipal Court judges. These councils are also responsible for setting the length of the terms served by these judges. However, a single term cannot exceed four years. Appeals from Municipal Courts are filed at the Circuit Courts.