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Overview of the South Carolina Court System

The South Carolina judicial system, which includes eight different types of courts, might seem confusing to those who encounter it for the first time. It can be helpful, though, to look at the system as a tiered structure.

On the bottom tier are five courts:

  • Family court, which handles domestic and juvenile cases.
  • Magistrate courts, which handle civil cases involving amounts under $7,500 and criminal cases where the offenses would result in a fine of $500 or less and imprisonment of no more than 30 days.
  • Municipal courts, which handle the same level of smaller criminal cases as the magistrate courts, along with cases that involve municipal ordinances and traffic offenses.
  • Probate courts, which handle administration of estates, guardianships, conservatorships, and commitment proceedings involving mental health and substance abuse.
  • Masters-in-equity, who are appointed by the governor and who have jurisdiction over equity matters referred to them by the circuit court.

The next tier in the judicial structure are the circuit courts, which are divided into a civil division called the court of common pleas and a criminal division called the court of general sessions. The circuit court system make up South Carolina's primary trial courts.

The next level up is the Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from the circuit courts and family courts.

Under South Carolina law, several classes of cases, including death penalty cases, are not subject to review by the Court of Appeals and go directly to the Supreme Court, the top tier of the state's judicial system. The Supreme Court also has rule-making authority for the entire judicial system.

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