Sometimes it is possible to erase the past, at least as far as various public documents are concerned in South Carolina. Under state law, expungement of criminal records is permitted for a variety of first offenses, minor violations and charges that did not result in convictions. Those convicted of serious crimes, however, do not have many options.
What Is Expungement?
Unlike many states, which will seal records from public view but not expunge the documents, South Carolina permits expungement only. Under that procedure, the records themselves are destroyed, as if the offense never happened. The expunged information would not show up during pre-employment background checks or licensing investigations, and job applicants legitimately could answer "no" when queried about criminal convictions.
Who Is Eligible for Expungement?
South Carolina has a tiered system for expungement, with waiting periods depending upon the nature of the violation. Individuals who were arrested but not convicted are eligible immediately, and the expungement will be granted without the fee that those convicted of offenses must pay. Other waiting periods are as follows:
- Marijuana conviction—completion of the sentence
- Conviction for writing a bad check—one year
- Minor conviction resulting in no more than 30 days in jail—three years
- First juvenile offense or adult domestic violence—five years
Hunting violations never can be expunged, and the only motor vehicle violation that can be expunged is a first offense of failing to stop for law enforcement.
How Do I Obtain an Expungement?
Begin the process by figuring out if the offense is eligible for expungement. The South Carolina Bar website offers information, and consulting a local attorney also can be beneficial because the process and procedure vary depending upon where the offense took place.
Next, figure out where you need to file your request—nonconvictions are processed in the municipal or magistrate court that handled the case, while everything else goes to the solicitor's office that covers the county in which the conviction occurred. The state is divided into 16 solicitor circuits, and each has its own paperwork and requirements so it is imperative to make sure you contact that correct location. There are fees involved that add up to more than $300—for the solicitor's office, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) that handles the records check and for the court clerk—and each must be paid with a separate money order.
The solicitor's office then forwards your request to SLED, which investigates to verify that the offense is eligible for expungement. If it is, the request next goes to the circuit judge, who will approve or deny the expungement. Upon approval, you will receive a copy of the expungement order, though it is a good idea to check your records with SLED a month or two later to ensure that the expungement has been applied correctly.
South Carolina does permit pardons that, in essence, "forgive" those convicted of the crimes for the offense, but just because the state has forgiven does not mean that everything is forgotten—a pardon does nothing to erase the record or to hide it from public view. A pardon does, however, officially end the punishment, which means that it restores certain civil rights such as the right to vote or hold a professional license.
Seeking Legal Counsel
South Carolina expungement procedures are lengthy, and the requirements can vary from county to county. Consult a local attorney for answers to specific questions about how to proceed in your location.