In some states, criminal records can never be expunged.
In South Carolina, some criminal records can be expunged – meaning all records of the arrest and court proceedings are destroyed… like it never happened.
South Carolina expungement laws only permit expungement of certain types of offenses under certain circumstances, and it can be confusing for many people. Below, we will take a look at what can and what cannot be expunged in SC.
Expungements for Non-Convictions
If you were not convicted of the charged offense, you can get the record of the arrest and court proceedings expunged, including:
- Not Guilty or Dismissals: Your record can be expunged if you are tried and found not guilty or if your case was dismissed by the court or by a prosecutor. If the charges were in magistrate or municipal court, you shouldn’t have to do anything – the court is supposed to automatically expunge these non-convictions. But, if the court doesn’t do it, you may need to get your attorney involved to make sure your record is expunged.
- Pre-Trial Diversion Programs: Your arrest is eligible for expungement if you complete a pre-trial diversion program like PTI or AEP (Alcohol Education Program) and the charge is dismissed.
- Minor traffic offenses are eligible for expungement if you complete the Traffic Education Program (TEP) and the charges are dismissed.
Expungements for Convictions
In some cases, authorized by SC’s expungement laws, you can get a conviction expunged from your record, including:
- A first-offense conviction in magistrate or municipal court: These are eligible for expungement after three years if it is the first offense, the crime carries a penalty of no more than 30 days in jail, and you have no other convictions on your record.
- Conditional discharge: A first-offense conviction of simple possession of marijuana or other minor drug offenses is eligible for expungement if you complete all the requirements of a conditional discharge.
- Domestic violence (DV): A first-offense conviction of criminal domestic violence (CDV) is eligible for expungement after five years if you’ve had no other convictions.
- Youthful offenders: A first-offense conviction under SC’s Youthful Offender Act (YOA) can be expunged if there are no other convictions five years after the completion of the sentence.
- Drug Court: Your charges can be expunged if you have completed the Drug Court program. When you enter drug court, you plead guilty and are sentenced to a prison term. You don’t go to prison – instead, you begin the drug court program. If you successfully complete the program, your case is then re-opened, the charges are dismissed, and your record is expunged.
- Traffic offenses: The only traffic conviction that can be expunged after conviction is a first-time conviction for failure to stop for a blue light. DUI convictions are never eligible for expungement. Minor traffic offense may be expunged if you enter the TEP program before conviction.
How Do I Get an Expungement in SC?
Although you do not have to use an attorney to get your charges expunged, many people do because it can be difficult dealing with circuit solicitor’s offices and following through to make sure all agencies have received and complied with the expungement order.
Your attorney will apply for the expungement through the solicitor’s office. Once they approve the expungement it is sent to SLED. Once SLED approves, it is sent to a local judge for signature. Once the signed order is returned, it is forwarded to all agencies that were involved in your arrest or prosecution, and it orders them to destroy all records of your case (with some exceptions that allow law enforcement to keep records to defend against civil litigation or to ensure that people do not enter pre-trial diversion programs more than once).
In addition to any attorney fees, there are fees that must be paid to each agency including:
- $250 administrative fee to the solicitor’s office;
- $25 fee to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division; and
- $35 filing fee to the clerk of court.
If your case ended in an acquittal or dismissal of the charges, these administrative fees do not apply. In magistrate or municipal court, the clerk of court should begin the expungement process automatically, but, in General Sessions Court, you or your attorney must initiate the process.
What Charges Cannot Be Expunged in SC?
Any offense that is not listed above cannot be expunged in SC. This includes violent crimes such as murder or aggravated assaults, traffic convictions, DUIs, and multiple convictions.
If your case is not eligible for expungement, you may still be eligible for a SC pardon, however.