SC’s municipal courts, or city courts, decide “minor” criminal cases based on events that take place within city limits.
In Horry County, SC, we routinely handle cases in the municipal courts including:
- Myrtle Beach Municipal Court,
- North Myrtle Beach Municipal Court,
- Conway Municipal Court,
- Surfside Beach Municipal Court,
- Aynor Municipal Court,
- Atlantic Beach Municipal Court, and
- Loris Municipal Court.
Below, we will discuss SC municipal courts and how they work, including what you should expect if you are charged with a crime within city limits and how city court differs from other courts like the magistrate court and General Sessions Court.
What is the Municipal Court?
The municipal courts, or city courts, handle “minor” criminal cases when the alleged offense happens within city limits.
If the alleged crime was outside of city limits, the case will usually be:
- Initiated by the Sherriff’s Department, County Police, or Highway Patrol,
- Prosecuted by the Circuit Solicitor’s Office (or the officer in some magistrate court cases), and
- Heard in the magistrate court (for minor offenses) or General Sessions Court (for more serious offenses).
If the alleged crime happened within city limits and was a 30-day misdemeanor or minor traffic offense (with some exceptions), the case will usually be:
- Initiated by the city police department or highway patrol,
- Prosecuted by the city’s attorney or the arresting officer, and
- Heard in the city court.
If the alleged crime happened within city limits and was anything more than a 30-misdemeanor (with some exceptions), the case will usually be:
- Initiated by the city police or highway patrol,
- Prosecuted by the Circuit Solicitor’s Office, and
- Heard in General Sessions Court.
What Types of Criminal Cases are in the City Court?
The most common criminal offenses that are heard in magistrate court in SC include:
- Traffic offenses, including speeding, driving under suspension, driving without a license, and every kind of traffic ticket that does not carry more than 30 days as a potential penalty (with some exceptions),
- Assault and battery 3rd degree – any assault and battery case that is more serious than 3rd degree will be heard in General Sessions Court,
- Domestic violence 3rd degree – domestic violence cases that are more serious than 3rd degree will be heard in General Sessions Court,
- Shoplifting offenses < $2000, but not property crime enhancements (which carry up to ten years in prison),
- Simple possession of marijuana,
- First offense DUI and DUAC charges,
- Public intoxication, and
- Petit larceny, possession of stolen goods < $2000, breach of trust < $2000, and other property crimes where the potential punishment is 30 days in jail or less.
What Types of Civil Cases are in the City Court?
The municipal courts do not hear civil cases – they only have jurisdiction to hear criminal matters.
If you have a civil dispute within city limits, you can file a lawsuit in the magistrate court (if the amount in controversy is $7500 or less) or the Court of Common Pleas (if the amount in controversy is more than $7500).
Are You Entitled to a Jury Trial in SC Municipal Courts?
You are entitled to a jury trial in the municipal courts – even for minor offenses like speeding or other traffic violations.
You must file a written jury trial request before your initial court date – your attorney can do this for you once you meet with them and provide them with your paperwork.
Once you have requested a jury trial in the municipal court, you may not have any more court dates until your case is scheduled for a pretrial conference (roster meeting or status conference).
In the meantime, depending on the nature of your case, your attorney will investigate your case, gather evidence, request discovery, file any appropriate pretrial motions, and attempt to negotiate with the prosecutor when appropriate.
DUI Charges in the City Court
First-offense driving under the influence (DUI) and driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration (DUAC) charges are heard in the municipal or magistrate court, depending on whether the alleged offense occurred within or outside city limits.
DUI or DUAC second offense or greater and felony DUI charges are always heard in General Sessions Court.
How is Municipal Court Different from Magistrate Court?
The procedure in the municipal court and the procedure for magistrate courts in South Carolina are very similar.
Both are “summary courts.” This means that the judge is expected to move fast and resolve cases with the least amount of time and court resources. Despite this, you are entitled to your constitutional rights in the city courts – but you must file your jury trial request, file your discovery motions and motions to compel discovery when necessary, and fight for your constitutional rights at every stage of the process…
In both courts, you must request a jury trial in writing, and the procedure is similar. You send the jury trial request and confirm that it was received, they cancel your initial court date, and you do not have another court date until your case appears on the trial roster and is scheduled for a pretrial conference (or roster meeting).
In the city court, you are prosecuted by a city attorney or the charging officer. In the magistrate court, you are prosecuted by the solicitor’s office (county attorney) or the charging officer.
How is Municipal Court Different from General Sessions Court?
Municipal court (and magistrate court) is very different from General Sessions Court.
- In the lower courts you must request a jury trial in writing, while in General Session Court it is presumed,
- In General Sessions Court the potential penalties are always greater – the municipal court usually handles only cases with a potential penalty of 30 days or less,
- In the city court you will get a part-time judge who is often a local practicing attorney, while in General Sessions Court you will get a full-time judge who was selected by the state legislature,
- In the city court you will be prosecuted by either the city attorney or the charging officer, while in General Session Court you will be prosecuted by either the Circuit Solicitor’s Office or the Attorney General’s Office, and
- If you can’t afford an attorney in General Sessions Court, you will be given a public defender, but, if you can’t afford an attorney in the city court, you may or may not be given a public defender depending on the city where you are charged and your circumstances.
Questions About SC Municipal Court?
If you have been charged with a crime in the municipal or magistrate court in SC, you should contact a municipal court criminal defense lawyer immediately – before the initial court date that was given to you on your ticket or at your bond hearing. You may have options to keep your record clean, whether it’s a negotiated dismissal of your case, a jury trial in the magistrate court, or a pretrial diversion program.
Call Coastal Law now to schedule a free case consultation by calling (843) 488-5000 or by contacting us through our website.