In South Carolina, your criminal record may be expunged—that is, erased or sealed—under the circumstances described below. If your record is expunged, it will no longer be visible to the general public, including potential employers. In most cases, you may say that you were never arrested or convicted of a crime. Law enforcement and courts continue to have access to expunged records for criminal justice purposes, like future criminal charging and sentencing.
Below we'll review criminal records and offenses that are eligible for expungement and how to apply.
If you were not convicted of a crime, your records may be automatically expunged or sealed by law enforcement and prosecution agencies. These records may include arrest and booking records, related bench warrants, mug shots, and fingerprints. "Not convicted" means:
The automatic provisions don't seal any records relating to charges dismissed as part of a plea agreement or charges brought before 2009. They may still be eligible for expungement, but the person must apply to have these records expunged.
(S.C. Code § 17-1-40 (2021).)
If you were convicted of a crime, your expungement options will be much more limited. For the most part, expungement options are available only for first-time, nonviolent offenses.
Successful completion of pretrial intervention or diversion. If you were a first-time offender convicted of a nonviolent crime, you may have been assigned to a pretrial intervention or diversion program. After successfully completing the program, you may apply to have the related criminal records expunged. (S.C. Code § 17-22-150 (2021).)
First-offense conviction for a misdemeanor punishable by not more than 30 days' imprisonment and a fine of $1,000. If you faced and were convicted of first-time misdemeanor charges carrying penalties of no more than 30 days' jail time, you may apply to have your record expunged. (Motor vehicle offenses do not qualify.) There is a five-year waiting period for domestic violence offenses and a three-year waiting period for other offenses. To be eligible, you cannot have any convictions during the waiting period. You are allowed only one expungement under this law. (S.C. Code § 22-5-910 (2021).)
First-offense conditional discharge or conviction for the simple possession of a controlled substance. If you were sentenced to a "conditional discharge" for possession of a controlled substance, you may apply to have the related record expunged after successfully completing your sentence. For other first-offense simple possession convictions, you must wait three years and have no other convictions during that time. (S.C. Code § 44-53-450 (2021).)
First-offense conviction for failure to stop for law enforcement. If you were a first offender for a "blue light" offense, you may apply to have your record expunged after waiting three years from completion of your sentence. You must have no other convictions during that time, and you are allowed only one expungement under this law. Failure-to-stop offenses that are classified as felonies are not eligible. (S.C. Code § 56-5-750 (2021).)
Conviction of a nonviolent offense by a youthful offender. If you were sentenced as a youthful offender (younger than 25) for a nonviolent offense, you may apply to have the related records expunged after waiting five years from the date of your conviction. In order to be eligible, you must have no other convictions on your record. However, the following offenses do not qualify:
You are allowed only one expungement under the law. (S.C. Code §§ 22-5-920, 24-19-10, 24-19-50 (2021).)
Expungement applications go through the solicitor's office in the judicial district where the arrest or offense occurred. Fees may apply. Check out these resources from the South Carolina Courts:
Cleaning up a criminal history can be complicated. If you are not sure whether your record qualifies for expungement in South Carolina—or for advice about your personal situation—you should contact a qualified criminal law attorney. A good lawyer can guide you each step of the way.
And, even if your criminal record doesn't qualify for expungement right now, the laws change often. South Carolina's Appleseed Legal Justice Center provides helpful expungement resources that include updates to the laws.