No one wants to be branded as a criminal for the rest of his or her life. Yet, if you have a criminal record, that’s exactly what can happen.
Whether you were convicted of a crime or arrested on charges that were later dropped, once people find out that you have a rap sheet, their attitude toward you may change. Unfortunately, this attitude isn’t even the worst part. You may also lose some of your basic rights like the right to own a firearm, to have a concealed weapon permit (CWP), and your right to obtain professional licenses for employment.
A criminal record can also prevent you from getting hired at many jobs, it can cause you to lose housing opportunities, and it could prevent you from getting financial aid for college.
What if your life didn’t have to be like that? What if your criminal record just disappeared?
If you’re eligible for expungement, then your criminal record could be destroyed and erased. You could get a fresh start on life.
There are many reasons you may be interested in expungement. For instance, maybe you:
- Made a mistake and paid the price
- Were charged with a crime, but the charges were dropped
- Were accused of a crime you didn’t commit and were found not guilty
If you’re ready to put your criminal record behind you for good, read on to learn about the expungement laws in South Carolina.
Basics of Expungements
In South Carolina, some criminal charges and convictions are eligible for expungement under certain conditions. Some expungements are done automatically by the clerk of court, but others require you to go through an application process.
Automatic Expungements in South Carolina
If you were charged with a 30-day misdemeanor in the magistrate or municipal court and your case was dismissed or you were found not guilty at trial, the clerk of court should automatically begin the expungement process. They are required by law to complete the expungement process and to provide you and your attorney with a copy of the final expungement order.
You can check on the public index for your county or you can request a copy of your criminal history from SLED’s website to confirm whether your arrest and disposition was expunged. If you did not receive a copy of the expungement order (although the law requires it, many clerks do not mail the expungement order) and your arrest is still showing up on the public index or your background check, you may need to contact a South Carolina expungement lawyer to help you complete the process.
All other expungements, including dismissals or acquittals in General Sessions Court, require an application process. You can do this on your own, or you can retain a SC expungement attorney who will follow through and ensure that the expungement is completed.
What is the Expungement Process in SC?
When you submit the expungement application, the Circuit Solicitor for the County in which you were charged must review and sign off on the application. It is then forwarded to SLED for review and signature. Once SLED approves the application, it is returned to a local judge for review and signature.
If your request for expungement is granted, the Court will issue an Order for Destruction of Arrest Records which is then forwarded to all agencies involved in your case including the jail, police department, clerk of court, and SLED. As each agency receives the Order, they will destroy all records of your arrest and prosecution including:
- Arrest records.
- Booking files.
- Mug shots.
Once this happens, all information about the expunged charges or conviction will be removed from your public criminal record although the law permits some agencies to maintain some records solely for the purpose of civil litigation or to maintain a record of persons who have completed pre-trial diversion programs.
What About Mugshots.com or Other Non-Government Websites?
The Expungement Order will only apply to government agencies. In past years, there have been a number of websites that publish arrestees’ photographs and arrest information and then demand payment to take it down.
Your Expungement Order does not apply to these websites although most of them claim to remove the information if you provide them with a copy of the expungement order. Although expungements do not apply to these websites, please note that these websites are now illegal in South Carolina and they are no longer allowed to demand payment to remove your arrest information.
What Can Be Expunged in SC?
Only certain charges and convictions are eligible for expungement in South Carolina. These fall into one of two categories:
1. If you were charged with a crime, but the charge was dropped…
Many people are charged with crimes that do not result in a conviction. When this happens, you are entitled to have all records of the arrest and prosecution expunged from your record. This includes:
- When your case is dismissed or nolle prossed by the prosecutor. In all cases except 30-day misdemeanors, you must initiate the expungement process and it is not automatic.
- When your case is dismissed after completion of a pre-trial diversion program like Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI), the Alcohol Education Program (AEP), the Traffic Education Program (TEP), or a conditional discharge for a minor drug offense. When you complete a pre-trial diversion program through the county’s PTI office, you must go through that office to obtain the expungement.
- When you go to trial and you are found not guilty. In all cases except 30-day misdemeanors, you must initiate the expungement process and it is not automatic.
2. If you were convicted of a crime…
Individuals convicted as first-time offenders of minor, non-violent offenses are often eligible for expungement, but it is not automatic and you must initiate the expungement process.
The State of South Carolina requires waiting periods before you can apply for an expungement, and the length of the waiting period depends on the conviction. For example:
- Expungement of most 30-day misdemeanors: three years from the date of conviction.
- Expungement of criminal domestic violence (CDV) third degree: five years from the date of conviction.
- Expungement of fraudulent check charge: one year from the date of conviction.
- Failure to stop for blue light: three years from completion of sentence if the offense did not involve bodily injury.
- Any conviction under South Carolina’s Youthful Offender Act (YOA): five years after the completion of the sentence if there are no other convictions during that time period.
- Simple possession of marijuana: immediately if you completed a conditional discharge. Otherwise, three years from the date of conviction.
Can traffic cases be expunged?
The general rule in South Carolina is that traffic cases, including DUI and DUAC, cannot be expunged. There are a few exceptions, however:
- Reckless driving charges can now be sent to Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) and expunged. This means that, in the prosecutor’s discretion, a DUI charge can be sent to PTI if the ticket is re-written as a reckless driving charge.
- Failure to stop for a blue light can be expunged three years after completion of the sentence if there was no bodily injury.
- Minor traffic offenses can be expunged upon completion of the Traffic Education Program (TEP). This is technically a dismissal and expungement of the arrest records with no conviction, however.
What Can’t Be Expunged in SC?
Convictions that cannot be expunged include repeat offenses, major offenses and violent offenses. Apart from the exceptions listed above, the following convictions are not eligible for expungement in SC:
- Driving under the influence (DUI),
- Driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration (DUAC),
- Motor vehicle or traffic violations.
- Any criminal offenses that carry a potential penalty of greater than 30 days.
- Wildlife convictions, such as hunting, fishing and gaming violations.
If you have one of the above charges on your record and it does not fall within an exception, your only remaining option is to apply for a pardon from the Probation, Parole and Pardon Services Board.
Getting a pardon doesn’t remove the charges or conviction from your criminal record. However, your criminal record will reflect that you have received a pardon from the State of South Carolina and your civil rights will be restored. This means that you will be allowed to own a firearm, have a concealed weapon permit (CWP), and obtain occupational licenses.
Do You Have a SC Criminal Record You Want Expunged?
Applying for an expungement can be a confusing, frustrating, and time-consuming process. If you have questions about your criminal record and whether you are eligible for an expungement, talk to a SC expungement lawyer at Coastal Law, LLC.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to answer your questions and guide you through the process of getting your record cleaned up.
To schedule a free consultation, call our legal team at (843) 488-5000, or complete our online form.