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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in South Carolina

South Carolina criminal records include records of arrests, convictions, and incarcerations. These records are available to interested members of the public. Most employers and agencies conduct routine criminal history checks for current and prospective employees. When a criminal record shows up, it generates difficulties for the holder. South Carolina state laws offer criminal record holders a new lease on life by withdrawing public access to these records. Persons named in the record or victims of the crime in the record can request to have their records removed from public access.

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records South Carolina

Expungement and sealing a record means two different things in South Carolina. Sealing a record means that it is available in special circumstances, but it is invisible to most members of the public. Expunging a record means that it gets erased, such that an individual involved can claim innocence of any crime. Different statutes hold for each of these processes in the South Carolina statute subsection 17–1–40.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How to Seal a Criminal Record in South Carolina

Sealing a criminal record in South Carolina requires the involved party to file a petition with the court with jurisdiction over the case. When the court receives the petition, the judge schedules a hearing. It is the prerogative of the judge to grant the request. If the judge thinks the reason for the request is tenable, they issue a court order to have the record sealed.

What Crimes Can Be Expunged in South Carolina?

There is a long list of crimes that qualify for expunction in South Carolina. The categories include:

  • Not guilty/Nolle pressed charges: they undergo automatic expunction. It does not apply to charges that got dismissed after a plea bargain.
  • Misdemeanors: the law restricts the list of eligible misdemeanors to those with a maximum sentence of 30 days or a $1000 fine. Request for expungement must wait for three years, during which the involved parties must not have any other convictions or pending investigations. Cases of domestic violence must wait for five years before they qualify for expunction. First-time offense requirements do not hold here.
  • Youthful offenders: except for offenses which the law interprets as crimes if committed by an adult, most youthful offenses can get an expungement when the involved party turns 25 years old. The requirements include a five-year waiting period. Since the involved party completed their sentence probation or parole, during these five years, the involved party must be free of any other convictions within or outside the state or pending charges. Many eligible juvenile offenses can get an expungement so long as the individual received the sentences in a single court proceeding or arose from the same incident.
  • First offender cases like a fraudulent check or failure to stop for a blue light are eligible for expunction in South Carolina. Fraudulent check charges must wait out a one-year period during which they must be no other convictions. Failure to stop for a blue light must wait for three years while maintaining a clean record.
  • Victims of human trafficking are eligible to get their records expunged, provided there are no more involved in the crimes. It also applies includes persons forced into prostitution.
  • Drug possession for personal use or intent to distribute: this drug offense is eligible for expunction three years after completing the sentence. Persons possessing drugs with intent to distribute have to wait for 20 years, provided there is no other drug felony within that period.
  • Diversion programs: when a person completes the required program, the county solicitor marks their charges as dismissed or not prosecuted, provided they have paid the fees and costs associated with the program. Some of them are traffic education programs, alcohol education programs, drug court programs, veteran court programs, conditional discharge for first offense drug possession charges, and pretrial interventions.

Persons who do not qualify for an expunction can apply for a pardon. Applying for a pardon allows the individual to present a clean record to employers or agencies where they need help.

How to Expunge Criminal Records in South Carolina

The process for expunging records in South Carolina depends primarily on the record involved. There are two types of records: conviction records and non-conviction records. Conviction records include cases where the defendant has served a sentence or fulfilled probationary obligations. It also extends to deferred sentences where the defendant was guilty. Non-conviction records, as the name implies, means that the activities involved in the record did not lead to a conviction. Examples are arrests and charges that led to a dismissal or a court trial that led to an acquittal. Each of them goes through a unique process of sealing or expunction. Whichever the case is, the first point of call in the process is the county solicitor’s office.

Most conviction records take time to get processed, depending on the case, the age of the involved party, and the expunging authority’s prerogative. Non-conviction records get processed quicker than others.

The county solicitor’s office received applications for expungement. There are 14 offices in the state of South Carolina. Applicants must find the solicitor who has jurisdiction over the county where they got charged. The paperwork involved in the experiment process takes about two to six weeks. It may take longer if the case at hand requires more administrative process. Some counties may also take a long time based on administrative channels.

Most non-conviction records get processed for free. An exception to this rule is dismissed charges arising from a plea agreement in a General Sessions Court. Otherwise, the following are necessary to apply for the expungement of conviction records:

  • $250 application fee to the solicitor’s office
  • $25 South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) fee
  • $35 to the Clerk of Court

The solicitor can provide a 50% offset of the application fee for expungement if there are available funds for this.

Contact the solicitor’s office with jurisdiction over the case for directions on how to begin an expungement process.

Do Sealed Records Show up In South Carolina Background Checks?

It depends. A search by any member of the public will not make a sealed record available. It means that it is invisible to the public. However, individual agencies may access sealed records. Among them are military, legal, health, and educational agencies. Also, court-authorized persons can access the files and make the documents available upon request with a court order or to law enforcement agents investigating a case.

Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in South Carolina?

When a criminal record gets sealed, the court restricts it from public access. Anyone with a court or executive order can access them. Most government agencies have an executive order to access these records. A sealed record does not get erased like an expunged record: It only limits,

How To Get Sealed Records In South Carolina

Interested parties can get sealed records by either waiting to request after the seal’s validity has expired or petitioned the court to release the document. If the presiding judges deem the petition viable, they issue a court order to the requester. Submit the court order along with the request to view or copy the records.

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