The Court system in South Carolina is set out, for the most part, in the State Constitution. In 1972, an amendment provided for judicial reform, and made a uniform system of circuit courts throughout the State. The circuit courts in South Carolina may be described as courts with original jurisdiction of almost every civil and criminal case.
The circuit court is divided into two parts: the Court of Common Pleas, which handles civil cases, and the Court of General Sessions, which hears criminal cases. The Court of Common Pleas hears cases where the amount in dispute is more than the amount for Magistrate's Court, or more than $2,500. The Court of General Sessions hears criminal cases where the penalty exceeds that which could be imposed by a Magistrate's Court or a Municipal Court, or all offenses where the penalty is more than 30 days or $200 or both. The Court of Common Pleas also hears appeals from decisions made by the Probate Court, Magistrate's Court, Municipal Court, or administrative agencies, such as the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. It also has authority to grant legal remedies which were recognized under the common law, such as habeas corpus and injunctions.
South Carolina is divided into 16 judicial circuits. Each circuit contains two or more counties and different numbers of circuit judges. Each circuit also has an elected Solicitor, who with his staff, is responsible for the prosecution of criminal cases in the Courts of General Sessions in his judicial circuit.
Criminal proceedings in the Court of General Sessions are run according to laws passed by the General Assembly, decisions and Rules of our Supreme Court, and decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Criminal cases usually start with an arrest, which happens after a warrant is issued by a magistrate. After a preliminary hearing held before that magistrate, a defendant's case may be bound over, or sent to the Grand Jury, which meets regularly in each county. If twelve members of the Grand Jury find probable cause to believe that a crime was committed by a defendant, an indictment is given a true bill, and forwarded to the Court of General Sessions for either a trial or a plea. Civil suits in the Court of Common Pleas started by filing and serving a summons and complaint on a defendant. Rules for this procedure are set out in South Carolina's Rules of Civil Procedure, and in laws passed by the General Assembly.
For further information about the location and conduct of the Circuit Court in your area, you may wish to contact the Clerk of Court at your county courthouse or your local solicitor's office.
This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 799-7100 in Richland or Lexington Counties, and 1-800-868-2284 from other parts of the state.