Which Court Will You Appear in to Face Your South Carolina Criminal Charges?

The South Carolina criminal justice system can seem complex to even seasoned legal professionals. On top of the various court types, the COVID-19 pandemic has created confusion among prosecutors, defendants, and lawyers alike. The vast majority of crimes are adjudicated in state court; in South Carolina, that means you will likely appear in Municipal, Magistrate, or General Sessions Court. We dive a little deeper into the distinctions below. 

Magistrate Court

This court sees criminal cases that are subject to a fine of no more than $500 and jail time of no more than 30 days. This includes many types of misdemeanors. Many cities and towns also have something called Municipal Court, which is overseen by magistrates and sees cases with the same penalties as Magistrate Court. However, Municipal Court only sees cases that occur within the applicable municipality. A particular Magistrate Court sees cases within that magistrate’s county. Some smaller municipalities only have a Magistrate Court.

Magistrate and Municipal Courts are designated as Summary Courts, which means that criminal cases heard in those courts move along at a fairly brisk place. For the most part, criminal cases heard in Summary Court are adjudicated through a bench trial. However, you may be able to secure a jury trial in Summary Court depending on the charges you’re facing. 

General Sessions Court

General Sessions Court is the term for the criminal side of South Carolina Circuit Courts (the civil side is referred to as the “Court of Common Pleas). This criminal court, to put it simply, sees more serious crimes than Magistrate court (including most felonies). If you have been charged with a crime that carries a penalty of more than 30 days in jail or a fine exceeding $500, expect to spend some time in General Sessions Court. Depending on the type of charge and various other factors, though, you might have preliminary court appearances in Magistrate court before going on trial in General Sessions Court. 

Federal Court

Both Summary Courts and Circuit Courts hear cases having to do with state law. If U.S. law is invoked in some way, you will be dealing with federal court. In criminal matters, you could go to federal court if you are accused of interstate drug trafficking, computer sex crimes, tax offenses, or other common federal crimes. 

If You Are Going to Court, You Need an Attorney

Regardless of the venue you will go to for adjudication of your criminal case, it’s important to have the help of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. Even seemingly minor crimes can have a dramatic impact on your immediate and long-term future. While this blog was only meant to serve as an introduction to the South Carolina court system, we did not cover anything to do with criminal appeals. 

Cate & Brough, P.A. has deep experience defending clients in every South Carolina court. Call us at (864) 585-4226 to discuss your options with our team—we’d be happy to speak as soon as you’re ready. 

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Cate & Brough, P.A.

At Cate & Brough, we all have personal experience with family law and family court. We know more than just what the law says about your issue – we know what you are going through.

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