South Carolina Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences

Learn how felony sentencing works in South Carolina.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 11/08/2023

South Carolina, like all states, distinguishes felonies from misdemeanors based on the seriousness of the offense. Felonies are considered the more serious of the two and carry potential prison time. This article will discuss felony classifications and sentencing in South Carolina. For information on misdemeanors, see South Carolina Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences.

How South Carolina Classifies Felonies

South Carolina law divides many felony crimes into one of six felony classifications—referenced as Classes A to F. Class A is the highest felony level and class F is the lowest. While these classifications exist, you won't find them when reading a criminal statute. Rather, the crime will specify a maximum sentence of incarceration, which corresponds to a felony class. Some criminal statutes will also set a maximum fine amount. If the law doesn't set a fine amount, the judge may determine the fine amount.

You can find felonies and their classifications, penalties, and enhancements in the South Carolina Code of Laws. Below are some examples.

Class A Felonies in S.C.

Class A felonies carry a maximum prison sentence of 30 years. Examples of class A felonies include kidnapping, armed robbery, and attempted murder.

Class B Felonies in S.C.

Class B felonies carry a maximum prison sentence of 25 years. Examples of class B felonies include vehicular manslaughter, second-degree arson, and drug trafficking.

Class C Felonies in S.C.

Class C felonies carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Examples of class C felonies include second-degree criminal sexual conduct, aggravated assault and battery, and carjacking.

Class D Felonies in S.C.

Class D felonies carry a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. Examples of class D felonies include second-degree burglary, repeat stalking, and escape.

Class E Felonies in S.C.

Class E felonies carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Examples of class E felonies include witness intimidation, grand larceny, bribery, and first-degree domestic violence.

Class F Felonies in S.C.

Class F felonies carry a maximum prison sentence of 5 years. Examples of class F felonies include voter fraud, animal fighting, and pointing a firearm at a person.

Exempt and Non-Specified Felonies

Other felonies—of which there are quite a few—don't follow the above classification system and are referred to as either exempt or non-specified.

Exempt felonies don't specify a penalty that matches up with a classification (A to F). Instead, the law indicates the penalty applicable for each exempt crime. Examples of exempt crimes include murder, manslaughter, incest, first-degree burglary, and failure to register as a sex offender. Exempt felonies specify a maximum sentence and sometimes a minimum sentence. For instance, manslaughter carries a minimum prison sentence of two years and a maximum prison sentence of 30 years. Certain exempt felonies allow the imposition of a life sentence. Aggravated murder is the only offense that carries the possibility of the death penalty.

Non-specified felonies don't indicate any penalty other than the crime being a felony. These felonies default to a sentence of between three months and ten years' incarceration.

Enhanced Sentences for Repeat Felony Offenders

South Carolina law also contains several sentencing enhancements for repeat felony offenders. A second or subsequent offense might carry a longer maximum sentence, impose a minimum sentence, eliminate parole or probation options, or extend the time period before becoming eligible for parole.

How Felony Sentencing Works in South Carolina

When imposing a felony sentence, judges can order a fixed term of imprisonment, payment of fines, fees or restitution (compensation to a victim), or any combination of these penalties. Judges can impose any sentence up to the maximum set in law. If the crime has a minimum sentence, the judge can't sentence below the minimum.

Felony Sentencing Example

Say a jury finds a defendant guilty of a class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. The judge can impose any fixed sentence of up to 25 years. A first-time offender might get a 5-year prison sentence, whereas an offender who has a long rap sheet or committed the crime against a vulnerable victim could be looking at 10, 15, or 20 years. The fixed term announced by the judge represents the longest time the defendant can spend in prison.

Felony Probation or Prison

Most often, a judge will hand down a sentence that includes a term of imprisonment and then either "execute or stay" the prison sentence. Executing the sentence means the offender will go to prison. Staying a sentence means the judge will suspend the prison sentence and give the offender a chance to serve the sentence in the community on probation. Some offenses are not eligible for probation.

Felony probation. When a judge stays a prison sentence, the judge generally conditions the stay (suspension) on the defendant's agreement to abide by numerous probation terms. Basically, the prison sentence hangs over the defendant's head as an incentive to comply with probation. Conditions of probation might include remaining law-abiding, seeking or maintaining employment, attending treatment or counseling, and abstaining from alcohol and drugs. A defendant who violates the terms could have probation revoked and be sent to prison.

Prison. If a judge executes the sentence, the defendant is sent to prison. Once in prison, the judge no longer has a say in the prisoner's sentence or release—those decisions are placed in the hands of the parole board. But, as noted above, the judge's sentence represents the longest time the defendant can be incarcerated. Even if the board doesn't grant parole, the defendant must be released once the entire sentence is served.

No Criminal Statutes of Limitations in South Carolina

Criminal statutes of limitations require prosecutors to file criminal charges against a defendant within a certain amount of time after the crime was committed or discovered. South Carolina is one of just a handful of states with no limitations on filing felony charges and only one of two states without limitations on filing any criminal charges. Prosecutors can file criminal charges at any time in South Carolina.

Find a Lawyer

If you're convicted of a felony, you face significant penalties that can permanently change the course of your life. A felony conviction can mean prison time and a lifelong criminal record (very few felonies qualify for expungement in South Carolina). Speak with a local criminal defense attorney if you've been arrested for, charged with, or investigated for a crime.

(S.C. Code §§ 16-1-10. -20, -60, -90, -120; 17-25-20, -45 (2023).)

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