Though it took nearly 10 years after the establishment of the federal Freedom of Information Act for South Carolina to implement their own public record rules, regulations, and laws, today it’s easier to request and receive public records from the state than ever before.
Public records in South Carolina include information regarding criminal background history, driving records, arrest records, property and tax records, vital records, and historical records – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Records regarding South Carolina history, genealogy, and governmental activities can all be requested from the state as well. And while there are certainly some exemptions to what can be accessed by the public upon request, for the most part, South Carolina provides a lot more transparency than a number of other states across the country.
What Federal Laws Apply to Public Record Requests in the US?
President Lyndon Johnson signed landmark legislation into law in 1966, putting pen to paper and establishing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) across the country.
This piece of federal legislation provided the public with the opportunity to request and receive records from federal government agencies, but it also paved the way for a number of states across the country that hadn’t yet codified their own public record access laws to do so as well.
Today, FOIA is the “law of the land” and supersedes all state rules, regulations, and laws governing how public records are handled when petitioning the federal departments inside of those states – including South Carolina.
How Does South Carolina Define Public Records?
Public record requests in the state of South Carolina are pretty simple and straightforward to navigate, especially thanks to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act that is nearly identical to the federal FOIA rules and regulations, too.
This process, previously very difficult to move through, was simplified in 1976. The state decided to pass its own rules and regulations, streamlining how individuals accessed the public records maintained by South Carolina.
This South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guarantees the right of every individual – not just in the state of South Carolina, but anywhere in the United States – the opportunity to inspect and copy publicly available records maintained by the government of South Carolina.
The only records that are not available under this FOIA initiative (which has been amended and updated since 1976) are those expressly exempt from disclosure. More information about those exemptions can be found in Section 30/4/40 of the South Carolina Code of Laws.
You can also have any questions regarding possible exemptions by contacting the South Carolina Department of Transportation FOIA Officer (Ms. Shirley Johnson, as of 2021) by calling 803-737-0997.
There are a number of classifications of public records that are exempted from public access in South Carolina, though.
One of the major exemptions that are sort of an “umbrella exemption” are legislative working documents, though anyone can request minutes of public meetings including transcripts at any point in time – and for any level of state government.
Other exemptions include records that contain a lot of personal or private information (medical records, adoption records, scholastic records, etc.). Income tax returns, library patron information, and similar details are not provided to anyone upon request, either.
Should specific sections of public records be exempted or rejected, the organization and governmental bodies that made those exemptions or redactions is legally mandated to tell you why they have decided to do so.
If you have requested public records in the state of South Carolina and have received a denial in response it’s important that you move through the appeal process.
You’ll have 12 months to file your appeal, at which point you’ll go in front of a South Carolina appeals court to plead your case and potentially get the denial overturned. More information about this process (and the public records exemption process altogether) can be found at https://doi.sc.gov/123/Freedom-of-Information-Requests-FOIA.
Where Can I Make Public Record Requests in South Carolina?
Running South Carolina public record requests is generally a pretty simple and straightforward process.
First, individuals and organizations will need to determine what type of public record request they are running this place.
Criminal checks and inmate records checks will need to be conducted through the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Department (SLED) system maintained at www.sled.sc.gov. Some of those records are free, others have a $25 fee attached, and if you run those records online you’re going to need to pay a $1 convenience fee to the state as well.
Court records in the state of South Carolina can be found through the South Carolina Department of Corrections database system, though not all counties report their records online through this platform.
You may need to visit individual court websites to find out how to access those records, and may even need to contact court clerks directly to gain access to the information that is being sought.
Vital records that are available for public search or public access are going to be found on the VitalChek website. A $17 nonrefundable fee must be paid before searching the database is made possible, with an extra $10.50 fee sent to VitalChek for maintaining this database in the first place.
Those that wish to have vital records sent to them directly or need to mail their request in after filling out the South Carolina Vital Records Application Form, attaching a valid form of ID (copy of the driver’s license, for example) and a check or money order for $12.
Other departments responsible for maintaining public records in South Carolina may have other unique fee schedules that they are legally able to set themselves.
These fees will always be disclosed upfront before a public record request is initiated, and most of the departments in the state that do extensive public record requests are going to require them to be paid in full up front as well.
More information about those fee schedules can be found directly from the departments you’re looking for information from.
What Kinds of Fees are Associated with Public Record Requests?
According to the Public Service Commission of South Carolina (with more information regarding these guidelines established in the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, S.C. Code 30-4-10 et. seq. documentation), each public body and organization has the ability and responsibility to establish and collect fees for the public records they provide.
This means that each department in South Carolina decides how much it’s going to cost to fulfill public record requests. There’s no universal price point across the board.
The only real rule that governs every department in regards to fees is that the public organizations are only able to “establish and collect reasonable fees that do not exceed the cost of the search, retrieval, redaction, and furnishing of those records”.
On top of that, the South Carolina rules and regulations governing public record access establish that each individual department must keep their charges uniform across the board and that these charges must not exceed the “prevailing commercial rate” for the production of copies, either.
Each department also has the ability to waive or reduce fees completely if they choose to do so, but that’s something that the governing bodies of those organizations will have to determine on their own.
The best way to know exactly how much your public records request is going to cost to be fulfilled is to contact the agency or department you’ll be making the request of first and ask them for an estimate. They’ll be able to shine a light on what your request is most likely going to cost based on their experience fulfilling those kinds of public record checks in the past.
A quick phone call to the right department can let you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket to get the information you are pursuing in South Carolina!
South Carolina has a number of different judicial branches and court districts (as well as different court varieties) that all keep and maintain their own records, though some of them have been digitized and uploaded to the South Carolina Judicial Branch database.
How Should I Request Court Records?
This court public records database for South Carolina can be found by visiting www.sccourts.org/casesearch, though you’ll need to know which county and which court the court case you are looking for was handled in.
Even more in-depth information can be accessed through these online tools including any case number information you might have, the specific court name that handled the case, as well as the court agency responsible for maintaining these documents.
Name searches can be conducted through this online process, as well.
A handful of counties in South Carolina do not provide online records at all (at least court records, anyway).
The following counties do include online information:
Each individual court system will maintain its own court records, too.
Circuit Courts in South Carolina, for example, are going to handle civil court cases, criminal cases, as well as cases going in front of the Court of Common Pleas as well as the Court of General Sessions.
Family Court in South Carolina is responsible for maintaining records that have to do because of visitation situations, marriage and divorce situations, alimony, property division in divorce situations, as well as legal name changes and modifications.
Probate Court records are going to include information regarding estate information of those that have passed on, guardianship situations, the issuance of marriage licenses, as well as legal commitments to any state institutions for the mentally ill or commitments to institutions for chemically dependent individuals.
Finally, you have the South Carolina Supreme Court and the records that they maintain.
These records are going to include any and all appeals that have been made by the different circuit courts in South Carolina, information regarding death sentences, public utility rates, as well as challenges to state laws, statutes, and anything to do with elections.
Criminal public record requests are handled by the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Department (SLED). Public record searches for criminal background info can be found on the SLED website by visiting www.SLED.SC.gov.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the kind of information these types of public records may include:
- Name and areas details
- Date of birth information
- Details regarding charges that may be pending
- Criminal conviction and arrest information
- Mugshots (wherever applicable)
- Previous arrest information
- Previous and/or current warrant information
- Fingerprint details
How to Use the SLED Online Database
You’ll need to include the exact last name of the individual being searched for, the first initial of that individual, and their birthdate. Social Security numbers can also be run through the system, though if you don’t have a perfect match you’re going to have a tougher time getting access to the impound you are looking for.
Fingerprint searches can be initiated (by law enforcement), though these kinds of public record requests need to abide by all state laws and statutes.
Those looking for hard copies of this information are going to want to have these types of public record requests run by SLED themselves. That’s going to involve a physical request for these records, with a check, money order, or cashier’s check made out to SLED Records Department in Columbia, South Carolina.
These kinds of record checks are going to cost $25 (non-refundable), with a $1 fee attached to all online public record requests, too.
How Long Do Criminal Record Searches Take?
South Carolina also has a number of Public Record Laws on the books, including a law that requires all publicly available records to be released to the public within 15 days of them being requested.
One very important thing to note about these Public Record Laws is that the 15-day time limit is not a 15-day response limit (similar to the same kind of response limits a lot of other states in the country have) but is instead a release limit.
It’s not enough for South Carolina officials to simply approve or deny your request for public records within that 15-day window of time. They actually have to furnish the records that you are requesting inside of that timeline, or provide you with information backing up the exemptions that prevent them from doing so.
How Long Does Criminal Information Stay on a Record?
Criminal felonies are going to be reported indefinitely, with no real restrictions whatsoever in the state of South Carolina. It makes no difference whatsoever whether or not these felonies were charged a month ago, a year ago, or three or four decades ago. The information is always going to show up during a criminal public record request in this state.
Misdemeanors may also be reported and viewed stretching as far back as an individual or organization is willing to look, though certain misdemeanors (including records that have been sealed or expunged) may not be available for investigation at all.
Can Criminal History Be Challenged/Expunged/Sealed?
Individuals have the right and opportunity to request for part of their records to be sealed or expunged, with each court handling this process a little differently.
Like a number of other states across the country, South Carolina does provide the public the ability to search arrest warrant information online.
Those interested in searching these kinds of records are going to need to first find the website for the county sheriff’s office that is most likely to have issued these warrants in the first place.
For example, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office is going to be responsible for maintaining the warrant database for their own county and no other. This means that a search for an individual that has an active warrant in another county won’t provide a hit on the Charleston database, though it would have if the Dorchester County website was searched.
Thankfully, each sheriff’s office makes this database very easy to find on their website and provides access on a 24/7 basis. Citizens living in South Carolina (as well as those living outside of South Carolina borders) are able to search this database free of charge at any point in time, doing name-based searches by providing the first and last name of the individual with an active warrant out.
More information about these warrants can be found by contacting the sheriff’s office responsible for that warrant directly, too. Most sheriff’s offices in South Carolina are open between 7 AM and 7 PM Monday through Friday, with after-hours and weekend contact information available on their websites, too.
What’s the Difference Between Arrest Records and Arrest Warrants?
It’s important to know that there is a big difference between public records regarding active arrest warrants and actual arrest records themselves.
Public records regarding active arrest warrants include the details provided on a warrant, the document that has been signed and issued by a South Carolina judge or magistrate that has found probable cause to grant an arrest request by law enforcement officers in the state.
These records are established before an arrest has been made.
Arrest records themselves are created after the arrest has occurred and include a lot more detailed information about the individual that has been apprehended, the charges brought before them, and the details regarding the specifics of the arrest itself.
Like most other records regarding criminal history in the state of South Carolina, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is going to be responsible for collecting and preserving (as well as providing access to) arrest record information in the state.
Visitors to the South Carolina Criminal Records database (found here) are going to be able to search state, county, and municipal records using the online tools available there.
Each criminal record check is going to cost $25 (non-refundable), with all major debit and credit cards accepted. Each online arrest record search is going to be another one dollar fee on top of that, though individuals that are making arrest record requests through the mail will not have to pay this extra charge.
What’s the Difference Between Arrest Records and Criminal Records?
Arrest records in South Carolina do not offer anywhere near as much information as criminal records will.
Arrest records (generally) include information like:
- Name, date of birth, and gender of the individual arrested
- Date and time of the arrest itself
- The circumstances of the arrest as well as information regarding the warrant used
- Mugshots and fingerprints (where applicable)
Criminal records, on the other hand, are far more in-depth and far more comprehensive.
Those kinds of records are going to include:
- Full details of all arrests
- Full details of all convictions
- Full details of all charges
- Full details of parole and probation history
- Details regarding sex offenders (where applicable)
… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Arrest records are specific to one incident and one arrest alone. Criminal history includes a much more comprehensive breakdown of every interaction an individual has with the criminal justice system in the state of South Carolina.
Who Has Access to Arrest Records?
Individuals have access to their own arrest record information in South Carolina, as do lawyers and attorneys that are working with individuals that have been arrested.
Law enforcement (local, state, and federal authorities) have access to arrest record details as well. It’s not uncommon for this kind of information to be used in a court of law as evidence, either.
South Carolina does provide public access to certain details on arrest records, though they may not provide the full and complete breakdown of an arrest record to just anyone or everyone.
The inmate records that are maintained by this state are handled through the Department of Corrections (SCDC), the State Department that is responsible for oversight of more than 21 facilities throughout South Carolina.
Online search tools can be found by visiting the same SLED website that criminal information can be found during a public record request, though information regarding countywide detentions are not going to be included in these databases.
Information regarding inmates that is available publicly include:
- Name and birthdate
- Mugshots (where applicable)
- Specific offense information
- Location within the SCDC
- Release date information
- Citizenship information
How Can I Find Inmate Records?
Individuals and organizations looking to gain access to these details are going to want to make their requests through the South Carolina DOC directly. Be sure to provide the first and last name of the inmate records they are searching for or the inmate offender number to speed things along.
Sex Offender Records
The public in South Carolina (as well as anyone else, for that matter) has the ability to search the full and complete state sex offender registry just by visiting http://scor.sled.sc.gov/.
The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is responsible for making and updating this database and these records, and they are constantly making sure that the information provided is as accurate and as up-to-date as possible.
Search tools provided here allow the information to be sorted by a geographic search for a specific name search. Community notifications and other resources are provided directly through this database and portal, too.
On top of that, individuals that would like to be alerted just as soon as the Sex Offender Registry (SORT) is updated will have the opportunity to do so totally free of charge.
The registration process is simple and straightforward, as all one has to do is click on the “Register for Community Notifications” button on the database, fill out their contact information, and then hit “submit”.
From there information about new updates to the registry will be sent via email directly to an individual’s inbox, usually a handful of times each week.
More information about this registry and the details provided within can be found by writing a letter with any questions directly to SLED headquarters. Use the following information to mail that letter:
4400 Broad River Road
Columbia, SC 29210
Vital records maintained by this state are recorded, organized, and maintained by The Division of Vital Records here in South Carolina.
Information contained within these records includes birth information, marriage, and divorce information, as well as annulments and death information.
Many of these marriage/divorce/annulment records are not available for public search, however, as South Carolina long mandates that only people named on marriage certificates, adult children of the people named on those certificates, or the former spouse on a certificate have access to this information.
Vital records that are available can be found by visiting the South Carolina Vital Records database online at www.vitalchek.com/vitalrecords/SouthCarolina. A $17 fee is assessed for each check (100% nonrefundable), with another $10.50 fee sent directly to the VitalChek platform as well.
Information from this database can be printed out and delivered to any address in the United States, with fees adjusted on a sliding scale depending on how much information is being printed and sent and to what address those documents are going.
Valid credit cards and debit cards are accepted as forms of payment on this website.
Of course, those that do not want to go through the online records search process can make a request via a traditional application – printing out, filling out, and then mailing it to the Division of Vital Records.
Applicants will need to attach a copy of a valid ID to their application, including a check or money order for $12 (non-refundable) in the envelope as well.
Any application that doesn’t include a copy of a valid ID or the $12 fee will be discarded and rejected.
All public records regarding businesses that have been registered in the state of South Carolina are going to be handled by the Secretary of State office.
Individuals interested in learning more about specific businesses filed and registered in the state are going to be able to use an online database to conduct these kinds of public record searches. The database can be found here.
Those record searches are available 100% free of charge on a 24/7 basis, too.
Anyone has access to these business records as well, regardless of whether or not they own a business, have any relationship to the business they are searching for, or live or work in the state itself.
For more information about business records in South Carolina, or to find details not available through the online database, searchers can call the Secretary of State office directly at 803-734-2158.
Historical public records for South Carolina are kept and maintained by the Department of Archives and History.
This organization is responsible for providing access to one of the most comprehensive and complete historical record collections in the entire country. More than 325 years of South Carolina history can be searched through by contacting the Department of Archives and History, with records and information dating back well before South Carolina was even a state!
While a considerable amount of these historical records have been digitized and moved online (available for search here), the overwhelming majority of the records that are handled by the Department of Archives and History remain in physical hard copy.
The best way to search through these resources is to contact this organization directly. Written requests for information should be sent to:
SC Department of Archives and History
8301 Parklane Road
Columbia, SC 29223
Property and Tax Records
Though the South Carolina Department of Revenue is responsible for oversight when it comes to property and tax records, each individual county (and each town and city) has its own unique ability to set, administer, and collect property taxes.
Those looking to search for property taxes that are enforced at the municipal level are going to want to visit the South Carolina Department of Revenue website database (found here).
Those looking for more granular information about the local and county-level property and tax records are going to need to first find the website for their county or town and then reach out from there.
It may not be a bad idea to contact a county tax clerk or town tax officer for more details, either.
South Carolina provides a variety of different driving records for those that want a little more information directly from the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles.
After visiting www.SCDMVonline.com/Driver-Services/Drivers-Licence/Driving-Record individuals will have the ability to get their driver record “point summary” as well as a 3 or 10-year driving record straight from the state.
The Driving Record Points Summary is available 100% free of charge, with the more complete driving record options available online as long as a $1 fee is paid.
These records are available for individuals to look at their own driving history, though full reports of someone else’s driving history are available as long as written consent is provided or an individual/organization has a valid specific reason for searching for this data.
That reason needs to be in full compliance with the federal Driver Privacy Protection of 1994 rules and regulations, though.