Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in South Carolina

Criminal records can be a barrier to employment, housing, education, and more. Find out if your records may qualify for expungement and how to apply.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 5/19/2023

Having a criminal record can make it difficult to get a job, housing, or professional license. Expunging records can help open some doors. In South Carolina, a criminal record may be expunged under the circumstances described below. Below we'll review criminal records and offenses that are eligible for expungement and how to apply.

What Is Expungement?

In South Carolina, a person can ask the court to expunge certain criminal records, including records of arrests, charges, and convictions. Expunged records are considered nonpublic, meaning they are not visible to the general public, including potential employers. In most cases, a person may say that they were never arrested or convicted of an expunged crime. Law enforcement and courts continue to have access to expunged records for future expungement decisions.

(S.C. Code § 22-5-90 (2023).)

Who Is Eligible for Expungement of Criminal Records in South Carolina?

Many of South Carolina's expungement laws are specific to an offense (like drug possession), type of offense (like a 30-day misdemeanor), or type of offender (such as a youthful offender). Each law has its own eligibility requirements.

Generally speaking, most expungement options have one or more of the following requirements:

  • only first-time offenses are eligible
  • the defendant can't have any pending charges
  • the defendant must remain crime free during any applicable wait period, and
  • the defendant has not previously received an expungement under that specific section of law (basically, there's a once-in-a-lifetime requirement for each eligible offense).

The conditions of receiving an expungement also depend on whether a person received a conviction or not.

Expungement in South Carolina for Non-Conviction Records

If a person was not convicted of a crime, their records may be expunged or sealed by law enforcement and prosecution agencies. The procedure will depend on why no conviction resulted.

Case Dismissed or Found Not Guilty

Automatic expungement is generally available in the following non-conviction cases:

Expunged records may include arrest and booking records, related bench warrants, mug shots, and fingerprints.

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. (There are no limits to the number of times a person can seek expungement under these sections.)

(S.C. Code §§ 17-1-40, 17-22-950 (2023).)

Pretrial Intervention or Diversion Records

For certain nonviolent crimes, a person may be assigned to a pretrial intervention or diversion program. These programs avoid court and a conviction as long as the participant complies with the program terms. But a person can only participate in such a program once. After successfully completing the program, the prosecutor dismisses the charges and the participant may apply to have the related criminal records destroyed.

(S.C. Code §§ 17-22-150, 17-22-330, 17-22-530 (2023).)

Conditional Discharge: Simple Drug Possession and Public Disorderly Conduct Charges

A person facing a first conviction for simple drug possession or public disorderly conduct may be eligible for a conditional discharge. With a conditional discharge, the judge holds off on entering a finding or plea of guilty and places the person on probation. Upon successful completion of probation, the judge dismisses the case and the person can apply for expungement of related records. A person can only get one conditional discharge under each section.

(S.C. Code §§ 16-17-530, 44-53-450 (2023).)

Expungement of Conviction Records in South Carolina

South Carolina law allows certain convictions to be expunged as well, albeit under more limited conditions.

Misdemeanors Punishable by 30 Days of Incarceration

Any person convicted of misdemeanor charges carrying penalties of no more than 30 days' jail time may apply to have their record expunged after a set amount of time. (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, a person cannot have pending charges or any convictions during the waiting period. Only one expungement is allowed under this law. (There's no longer a requirement that the misdemeanor conviction be a first offense.)

(S.C. Code § 22-5-910 (2023).)

First-Offense Drug Conviction: Simple Possession or Possession With Intent to Distribute

A person can get a first-time drug conviction expunged if it was for simple possession or possession with intent to distribute. For simple possession, the person must wait three years after completing the sentence and have no convictions during that time. Possession with intent to distribute requires the person to wait 20 years, during which time the person can't have any other drug or felony convictions.

A person can't have any pending charges when requesting expungement under this section. Also, a prior conditional discharge may disqualify the person from expungement. This section allows only one expungement in a lifetime.

(S.C. Code § 22-5-930 (2023).)

First-Offense Conviction for Failure to Stop for Law Enforcement

A person convicted of a first-time "blue light" offense may apply for expungement after waiting three years from the completion of the sentence. The person cannot have any convictions during that time, and only one expungement is permitted under this law. Failure-to-stop offenses that are classified as felonies are not eligible.

(S.C. Code § 56-5-750 (2023).)

Youthful Offender Convictions

First offenses committed by a youthful offender (younger than 25) may qualify for expungement. The person must have no convictions during the five-year wait period. The following offenses do not qualify for expungement under this section:

  • motor vehicle offenses
  • violent crimes
  • crimes that require sex offender registration, and
  • most domestic violence offenses

A person is allowed only one expungement under the law.

(S.C. Code §§ 22-5-920, 24-19-10, 24-19-50 (2023).)

How to Apply for Expungement in South Carolina

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:

Getting Legal Help

Cleaning up a criminal history can be complicated. If you're not sure whether your record qualifies for expungement in South Carolina—or for advice about your personal situation—contact a 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.

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