South Carolina Court System

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The South Carolina Court system is made up of several different types of tribunals with each exerting its own jurisdiction in specific legal matters. A general bifurcation of the courts in the judicial system of the state would involve putting the courts into two categories; appellate and trial.

As the name suggests, appellate courts are given the task of handling matters which come up from lower courts because the defendant is unhappy with the verdict and would like to appeal against it. There are three appellate courts in the state; the Supreme Court which is at the top of the judicial hierarchy, the Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals.

While these three tribunals exclusively hear appeal cases whether equity or criminal, trial courts are tribunals where matters are heard for the very first time. These tribunals unless divided into civil and criminal courts have the jurisdiction to hear both case types. The tribunals are further classified into those that have general jurisdiction which is defined above and those that have limited jurisdiction. The courts slotted in these four classifications are:

The Supreme Court: The bench of the Supreme Court of South Carolina comprises of the chief Justice and four associate judges. This tribunal has both appellate and original jurisdiction. So, this court does not have to hear all cases that are brought before it but can in fact choose to hear certain matters. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in the state and it usually hears cases that have been appealed from the Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals.

However, in certain rare scenarios like appeals against death penalty and those that involve the constitution of the country, matters are taken directly to the Supreme Court.The apex tribunal also lays down the rules for the unified judicial system of the state and controls the admission of practice of attorneys and the discipline of lawyers.

The Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals: Both of these are intermediate appeal courts that accept cases brought up from the circuit tribunals. The Court of Appeals has jurisdiction in civil matters while the Court of Criminal Appeals handles criminal cases. Defendants also have the right to appeal any verdict given by these tribunals in the apex court. Nine judges including the Chief justice are appointed to these two tribunals and they hear cases in panels of three.

Circuit Courts: The tribunals with the broadest judicial powers in the state, these courts have general jurisdiction. The Circuit courts of South Carolina are further bifurcated into a criminal tribunal, a court of common pleas and the court of general sessions. Circuit courts also have appellate jurisdiction but it is limited. Hence these tribunals can hear appeals but only those that have been brought up from the magistrate, municipal or probate courts.

Municipal Court: In addition to handling cases that deal with traffic offenses and municipal ordinance violations, these tribunals also often hear cases from the general session’s court when they meet certain statutory criteria.

The court of the magistrate: These tribunals only have jurisdiction in criminal matters where the monitory fine for the misconduct does not exceed $500 and imprisonment does not go beyond 30 days. The court also has civil jurisdiction in cases where the disputed amount is less than $7500.

Probate Courts: Probate judges have jurisdiction in cases pertaining to guardianship of minors, marriage licenses, estates of the deceased and any civil claim that involves a settlement of no more than $25,000. The circuit and probate courts hold concurrent jurisdiction over powers of attorney.

Family courts: Another limited jurisdiction tribunal, these courts deal with divorces, custody cases and the likes.