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Felonies, Misdemeanors, and Infractions in South Carolina

To maintain law and order in any society, acts that go against the law are punished according to the constitution governing that particular city, state, or country. The state of South Carolina is no different. Crimes and offenses that might lead to the breakdown of law and order are defined and classified into felonies, misdemeanors, and Infractions. This classification is done according to the gravity of the offense. Felonies are the most serious offense which makes any individual that commit crimes of this nature to receive the most severe punishment. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies and hence, the penalties are not as drastic as those of a felony offender. Infractions are even less grievous and are mostly traffic violations that get the maximum penalty of a ticket. Summarily, South Carolina crimes are tried on the basis of these categories.

What is a felony in South Carolina?

Felonies are the most serious crimes in the state of South Carolina. To ease the process of serving judgment, the South Carolina code classifies the different serious crimes into 6 classes of felonies. They are ranked according to their severity and accompanying recommended punishments. The different classes of felony in South Carolina are:

  • Class A Felony: Offenders of crimes that fall under this category are recommended to serve a jail term of a period not exceeding 30 years.
  • Class B Felony: Perpetrators of crimes that are in this category are to serve jail terms of a period not exceeding 25 years.
  • Class C Felony: The recommended punishment for offenders of crimes in this category is for them to be sentenced to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years.
  • Class D Felony: The punishment recommended for those found guilty of crimes in this category is a maximum jail term that should not exceed 15 years or a fine that should not exceed $100,000 or both, depending on the court.
  • Class E Felony: Offenders of crimes in this class are to be sentenced to a jail term that should not exceed 5 years and/or a fine that should be between $100 and $500 for a first-time offender. Subsequent offenders are to be punished for a jail term that should not be more than 10 years and/or a fine between $500 and $5000.
  • Class F Felony: The recommended punishment for those found guilty of crimes in this class is time in jail for a period that should not exceed 5 years or a fine that should not be above $5000, or both, according to the discretion of the court.

Some major crimes and offenses are not captured in this classification. They are called Exempted crimes. The crimes have different individual statutes that spell out the recommended crime for each exempted crime.

Some states give prosecutors time frames to try a case after which it becomes illegal to prosecute such cases. That is not the case with South Carolina. Any crime can be prosecuted at any time, no matter how long after the crime has been committed, because there is no criminal statute of limitations.

What are some examples of felonies in South Carolina?

Examples of crimes that fall under each class of felony are:

Class A Felonies

  • Kidnapping
  • Aggravated assault
  • Attempted murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Bank robbery

Class B Felonies

  • Second-degree Arson (intentionally setting fire to a building or personal property that results, either directly or indirectly, in causing serious bodily injury to an individual)
  • Money laundering
  • Drug trafficking
  • Driving with the influence of alcohol (DWI) that results in the death of an individual
  • Hit and run

Class C Felonies

  • Being an accomplice in the murder of a minor
  • Sexual exploitation of a minor
  • Aggravated assault and battery
  • Robbing an individual at an ATM
  • Inflicting bodily injury on a minor
  • Attempted armed robbery

Class D Felonies

  • Third-degree arson (maliciously setting fire or causing an explosion to a building or personal property which causes bodily injury to an individual)
  • Second-degree burglary (entering a building without consent with the intent of committing a crime. The perpetrator must have been a person with a prior conviction for burglary or be harmed with a weapon. The burglary happening in the nighttime also makes it a strong case for second-degree burglary)
  • Aiding an individual to commit suicide
  • Stalking within 10 years of a previous conviction for stalking
  • Abuse or neglecting of an adult resulting in great bodily injury

Class E Felonies

  • Blackmail
  • Electoral bribery
  • Receiving stolen goods worth $10,000 or more
  • Malicious destruction of property worth $10,000 or more
  • Intentionally causing malicious injury to animals
  • Sexual battery by a spouse

Class F Felonies

  • Stalking (first-time offense)
  • Carrying weapons on a school property
  • Illegal conduct at elections
  • Sale or possession of counterfeit cigarettes
  • Larceny (theft of goods and properties worth between $2,000 and $4,000)
  • Violation of restraining order (if the restraining order was given because a felony offense was committed in the first instance)
  • Perjury

Exempted Crimes

  • Murder: Section 16–3–20 of the South Carolina code recommends a maximum punishment of the death penalty. Life imprisonment or a mandatory jail term of 30 years may be alternatively served upon any individual found guilty. The code goes ahead to deny the guilty party that has been sentenced to life imprisonment of the chance to be eligible for parole or early release based on good conduct.
  • First-degree burglary: Entering a dwelling without consent and with the intent of committing crime makes any breaking in a burglary. If the individual committing this crime is then also guilty of any one of:
  • being armed with a deadly weapon
  • causing serious bodily injury to someone that is not a participant in the crime
  • being a repeat offender of burglary (the culprit has 2 or more previous convictions for burglary)
  • carrying out the burglary in the night

It makes the burglary a first-degree burglary. Section 16–11–312 recommends a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. The court may also decide to use their discretion to sentence the guilty party to a jail term of any period that should not be less than 15 years.

  • Failure to register as a sex offender (Repeat offender): An individual that has been previously convicted for failure to register as a sex offender twice is guilty of a felony. The punishment recommended by Section 23–3–470 is imprisonment for 5 years. The culprit will also not be eligible for parole until 3 years out of the 5-year sentence has been served.

Can I get a Felony Removed from a Court Record in South Carolina?

Most records of felony convictions cannot be expunged from a court record in South Carolina. As spelt out in Section 17–22–910 of the South Carolina code, only a person that was acquitted by the court or an individual whose case was dismissed may file for expungement. Other categories of people that are eligible to file for the expunging of their criminal records are:

  • First-time conviction for a bad or fraudulent cheque criminal offense.
  • A simple possession of marijuana case that was resolved by conditional discharge (very similar to probation but the defendant does not have a conviction on their record after the completion of the conditional discharge)
  • First-time offense for failure to stop for a law enforcement officer after being signaled to stop.
  • First-time convictions in the municipal or magistrate court in cases that the defendant does not have any other conviction for 3 years. There is an exception for defendants whose first-time conviction is a domestic violence crime. The defendant must have had no other conviction for 5 years.
  • Convictions for crimes that were committed when the defendant was less than 25 years may also be eligible for expungement.
  • Charges that were resolved by the successful completion of the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) and the Alcohol Education Program (AEP). PTI is a strict community service-like alternative for first-time offenders of non-violent crimes. It allows them to have the charges against them cleared and expunged if they complete the 90-day program (it could be longer, depending on the offense). AEP targets first-time underage criminals of alcohol-related offenses and engages them in education and lots of community service. Successful completion of this program qualifies them to apply for the expungement of their criminal record.

Only defendants that fall under any of these categories are eligible to apply for expungement.

Is expungement the same as sealing court records in South Carolina?

Expungement is different from just sealing records in South Carolina. When a record is expunged, all fingerprints, DNA records, arrest/booking records, and mug shots are destroyed. Sealing does not destroy these records. It just hides them from members of the public. Government agencies and any member of the public with authorization may have access to those records.

To expunge a criminal record in South Carolina, the offender will file an application at the office of the Solicitor that has jurisdiction over the county the charges that the offender was convicted of originated from. Expungement processes are usually completed between 2 to 6 weeks after the submission of an application, even if it may be longer in some counties.

How Long Does a Felony Stay on Your Record in South Carolina?

Most felonies that do not qualify for expungement stay on the offender’s records for life in South Carolina. Only a felony conviction that has been expunged will be off the offender’s record. Juvenile offenders, except for those that were found guilty for domestic violence, may have their records expunged 3 years after the completion of the entire sentence of the conviction. Those that were convicted for domestic violence may have their records expunged 5 years after the completion of the entire sentence. They must also have had no new convictions in that period.

What is a Misdemeanor in South Carolina?

Misdemeanors are less serious offenses than felonies. They are crimes that carry maximum penalties of imprisonment for 3 years. The South Carolina code classifies offenses into 3 classes of misdemeanors.

  • Class A Misdemeanors: Offenders of crimes that fall into this class may serve time in jail for a period that should not be more than 3 years. A fine that should not exceed $2,500 may also be placed on them as punishment.
  • Class B Misdemeanors: Individuals found guilty of crimes in this class are to be imprisoned for a period that should not be more than 2 years and/or a fine that falls within the range of $1000 and $2000.
  • Class C Misdemeanors: They are the least ranked misdemeanor. Offenders of crimes in this class have punishments that should not exceed 1 year in jail and/or a fine that should not exceed $1000.

Just as it is with felonies in South Carolina, some misdemeanor crimes are exempted from the classification system. These crimes are mentioned individually in the statutes and carry their penalties.

There are no criminal statutes of limitations for misdemeanors in South Carolina. This means that prosecutors can try a case anytime after the crime has been committed, no matter how long that is.

What are some examples of Misdemeanors in South Carolina?

Examples of misdemeanors that fall under the different classes are:

Class A Misdemeanors:

  • Third offense of vandalism within 10 years
  • Receiving stolen goods with a value that range between $2,000 and $10,000
  • Second-degree assault and battery (injuring or attempting to injure another person that results in moderate bodily injury)
  • First offense of shoplifting
  • Threatening a minor with physical violence by a gang member
  • Communicating with someone without their consent

Class B Misdemeanors:

  • Enticing a child that leads to the child’s absence from school
  • False income representation to get housing allocation
  • Third or subsequent offense of animal cruelty
  • First-time offense of possession of controlled narcotics
  • Assaulting another person because of the expression of political opinions
  • Using firearms under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substance

Class C Misdemeanors

  • Second offense of vandalism in 10 years
  • Libel or Slander
  • Assault with a concealed weapon
  • Third-time offense of prostitution
  • Theft of cable television service
  • Falsifying a transcript
  • Disturbing a religious worship

Exempted Misdemeanors

  • Possession of Marijuana: A first-time offense of unlawful possession of marijuana that does not weigh more than 28 grams will be subjected to imprisonment at the county jail for 30 days or a fine. Also, the offender will have their license suspended for 6 months. A second conviction for this same offense might lead to imprisonment for up to a year.
  • Illegal possession of alcohol by a minor: Section 61–6–4070 of the South Carolina code recommends a prison sentence that is not more than 30 days for a first time offender. A fine between the range of $200 and $300 may be charged either in place of the prison sentence or alongside it. A second conviction for this same offense increases the fine to an amount that should not be less than $400 with the maximum 30-day imprisonment remaining unchanged.
  • Failure to register as a sex offender: A first time offender of this crime will be punished by a fine that should not be more than $1,000 or a jail term for a period that should not exceed 366 days or both, as the court may decide. A second conviction of this offense must serve the maximum jail term of 366 days with no opportunity to be paroled.

Can I Get a Misdemeanor Removed from a Record in South Carolina?

Convictions for misdemeanors that carry a maximum punishment of fines not exceeding $1,000 and jail terms not exceeding 30 days are eligible for expungement. The waiting period of 3 years after the completion of the entire sentence applies if the offender was not convicted for domestic violence. If the offender was convicted of a domestic violence crime, the waiting period before being eligible to apply for expungement is 5 years.

It should be noted that in South Carolina, the class of felony or misdemeanor a crime belongs to might not be the only thing taken into consideration when sentencing. Another major way crimes are looked at in South Carolina is if they are what the South Carolina code defines as violent or non-violent crimes. Section 16–1–60 of the South Carolina code defines violent crimes as all the different crimes enumerated in the section. They include:

  • Murder
  • Attempted murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Homicide by child abuse
  • Armed robbery
  • Attempted armed robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Trafficking in persons
  • Inflicting great bodily injury on a minor
  • Assault and battery by a mob and resulting in death
  • High and aggravated criminal domestic violence
  • Carjacking
  • Arson in the second degree
  • Burglary in the first degree, and many others.

All other crimes not listed and enumerated in that section are seen as non-violent crimes. Felonies can be violent or non-violent just like misdemeanors can also be violent or non-violent. For example, second-degree burglary is a non-violent felony if there is no threat of anyone getting injured.

The classification of crimes into violent and non-violent carries more weight when sentencing is considered because violent crimes all have their statutes in the South Carolina code where the individual punishment for each crime is spelt out. A major difference between the two is that offenders of violent crimes do not have the privilege of attending pretrial diversion programs like PTI or AEP. These programs serve as a punishment for the offenders and the charges against them might be dropped.

Offenders of violent crimes may not also have their records expunged and must serve a greater part of their sentence before being eligible for parole. Offenders of non-violent crimes are eligible for expungement of their records and can be paroled after serving a shorter part of their sentence.

Can a DUI Be Expunged in South Carolina?

Driving under the influence of alcohol conviction cannot be expunged. Only DUI charges that did not lead to a conviction because the defendant was found not guilty and acquitted, or the case was dismissed, or the prosecution did not continue the case. Also, all other driving offenses cannot be expunged.

What constitutes an Infraction in South Carolina?

Infractions are mostly traffic offenses. They are not criminal offenses like a felony or misdemeanor but they may affect the offender’s insurance, license, and driving records. Tickets and points are the usual punishments for infractions. Tickets are paid off with a fine while the accumulation of tickets and points may lead to the suspension of the offender’s driving license.

For example, failing to yield right of way gives the offender 4 points while speeding by over 25mph is a 6 point penalty. A driver that accumulates between 12 and 15 points will be suspended for 3 months while a driver that accumulates 20 or more points will be suspended for 6 months. Taking a driving safety cause may help in taking some points off the offender’s driving record. Alternatively, being careful not to accumulate more points is also another way of clearing them. 12 months after a point has been given, it reduces by half if there are no other points accumulated. After 24 months, that point will no longer exist.

What are some examples of Infractions in South Carolina?

Some of the common examples of infractions in South Carolina are:

  • Speeding
  • Driving without Insurance
  • Passing a stopped school bus
  • Driving without a license
  • Driving under suspension
  • Failure to stop for law enforcement agents
  • Not moving over for emergency vehicles
  • Driving with a broken headlight
  • Driving with expired license plate
  • Talking on a cell phone while driving
  • Driving without a seatbelt
  • Illegal U-turn
  • Running a red light
  • Unlawful vehicle modifications

Can Infractions be Expunged from a South Carolina Criminal Court Record?

Infractions cannot be expunged from a South Carolina criminal record because they are not criminal offenses that go into the criminal record. However, all driving offenses, infractions included, remain on an offender’s driving record permanently and cannot be removed.

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