The Civil Court System
The Circuit Court is the state's court of general jurisdiction. It has a civil court, the Court of Common Pleas, and a criminal court, the Court of General Sessions. In addition to its general trial jurisdiction, the Circuit Court has limited appellate jurisdiction over appeals from the Probate Court, Magistrate's Court, and Municipal Court, as well as appeals from the Administrative Law Judge Division, which hears matters relating to state administrative and regulatory agencies.
Magistrates generally have criminal trial jurisdiction over all offenses subject to the penalty of a fine, as set by statute, but generally, not exceeding $500.00 or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days, or both. In addition, they are responsible for setting bail, conducting preliminary hearings, and issuing arrest and search warrants. Magistrates have civil jurisdiction when the amount in controversy does not exceed $7,500.
Masters are appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the General Assembly for a term of six years. They have the power and authority of the Circuit Court sitting without a jury, to regulate all proceedings in every hearing before them, and to perform all acts and take all measures necessary or proper for the efficient performance of their duties under the order of reference.
Each county has a Probate Judge who is popularly elected to a four year term and has jurisdiction over marriage licenses, estates of deceased persons, guardianships of incompetents, conservatorships of estates of minors and incompetents, minor settlements under $25,000 and involuntary commitments to institutions for mentally ill and/or chemically dependent persons. They also have exclusive jurisdiction over trusts and concurrent jurisdiction with Circuit Courts over powers of attorney.
On January 1, 1998, the name of the office changed from Register of Mesne Conveyances (RMC) to Register of Deeds (RoD). Current office holders, whether appointed or elected, were authorized to keep the name of RMC during their tenure in office, however, after their term, the name is to change to RoD. The duties of the Register of Deeds are set out by the Code of Laws of South Carolina. The proper recording of documents provides notice to subsequent purchasers or creditors of the interests of others in the property and establishes priority of claims against that property. Generally, all instruments conveying an interest in real property must be recorded in that county's Register of Deeds in order to be valid. Other documents of public interest may also be recorded by the Register of Deeds.
South Carolina Court Administration was established in 1973 pursuant to the new Judicial Article of the South Carolina Constitution, which provides that the Chief Justice shall appoint an Administrator of the Courts and such assistants as deemed necessary to aid in the administration of the courts of the State. The State Court Administrator serves as the Director of the Office of South Carolina Court Administration. It is the administrative arm of the Chief Justice in his/her capacity as the administrative head of the state judicial system.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in South Carolina. The Court is composed of a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices who are elected to ten year terms by the General Assembly. The terms of the justices are staggered and a justice may be reelected to any number of terms.