South Carolina divides crimes into two broad categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies and generally carry possible jail time and fines. In most states, the penalty cut-off between misdemeanors and felonies is anything over a year behind bars. But in South Carolina, misdemeanors can carry sentences of up to three years in jail. This article will outline South Carolina's misdemeanor penalties, sentencing options and alternatives, and expungement eligibility. For information on felonies, check out South Carolina Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
Misdemeanors in South Carolina carry the possibility of up to three years' imprisonment. Generally, each crime specifies a classification, such as class B, or a maximum penalty, such as incarceration not to exceed 30 days and a fine not to exceed $2,000.
South Carolina classifies many of its misdemeanors into one of three categories: Class A, B, or C. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious, while class C misdemeanors are the least serious. Misdemeanors that don't fall under one of these classifications are known as exempt misdemeanors and have possible sentences of a year or less.
Anyone convicted of a misdemeanor offense in South Carolina faces a range of potential penalties, including jail time, fines, fees, restitution, community service, and court-ordered treatment.
A judge can impose any sentence within the limits set by law. The following penalties reflect the maximum sentence that may be imposed by class.
For exempt penalties, each crime indicates the maximum penalty, such as thirty days, ninety days, or six months' jail time.
Each crime also provides a maximum fine amount that may be imposed. For example, someone convicted of second-degree assault and battery, a Class A misdemeanor, faces a potential fine of not more than $2,500.
Below are some examples of South Carolina misdemeanors by class.
Class A misdemeanors
Class B misdemeanors
Class C misdemeanors
South Carolina law bumps up certain misdemeanors to felony offenses. A person could face a felony penalty for repeat misdemeanor offenses, offenses involving increasing harm (like assault), and offenses against vulnerable victims (such as children or family members). A misdemeanor property crime, for instance, becomes a class E felony upon a third or subsequent conviction.
Judges have several options when it comes to sentencing misdemeanor offenses. The law also authorizes prosecutors—called solicitors—to "divert" certain offenders away from the criminal justice system by offering pretrial invention or diversion programs.
Some solicitors' offices have pretrial intervention or diversion programs aimed at keeping low-level misdemeanor offenses out of criminal court. These programs focus on rehabilitating the person through treatment, accountability to victims, and other interventions. These programs, if available, are often limited to first-time offenders who haven't committed violent crimes.
Generally, the solicitor will hold off on filing criminal charges against the person based on an agreement that the person complete certain program requirements. If successful, the solicitor dismisses the charges and the person can ask the court to destroy all related records. A violation, on the other hand, means the solicitor may go forward with the criminal charges.
If a defendant is convicted, a judge still has several options short of sentencing or sending a defendant to jail, including misdemeanor probation, alternative court programs, community service, and restitution.
Misdemeanor probation. A judge may hold off on imposing or executing a sentence and instead place the defendant on probation. Suspending "imposition" of a sentence means the judge doesn't announce the sentence upon conviction. Suspending "execution" of a sentence means the judge announced the sentence but held off on sending the person to jail. Both of these options require a defendant to abide by probation terms, such as checking in with a supervising officer, attending treatment, maintaining employment, or remaining law abiding.
Alternative court programs. Many courts offer court-supervised drug, mental health, or veteran's treatment courts. These specialty or alternative courts typically require an eligible defendant to admit guilt and comply with a treatment plan outlined by a multi-disciplinary team. This team usually consists of the judge, solicitor, defense counsel, probation, social services, and a treatment specialist. A defendant might be required to seek treatment and make periodic appearances before the judge, meet with a probation supervisor, and complete other requirements.
Community service or restitution. A judge can also require an offender to complete community service or make restitution to (compensate) victims in lieu of or in addition to jail time.
Judges may, of course, sentence a defendant to incarceration and payment of fines and fees. A judge can impose any amount of time up to the maximum specified in law. A defendant might also spend time in jail for violations of probation or drug (or another alternative) court.
Certain offenders can have their criminal records expunged or sealed. Expungement is limited in South Carolina but may be an option for defendants who:
A defendant must file an application with the solicitor's office that prosecuted the case. For some offenses, a person can apply for expungement only after a certain amount of time has passed (a wait period) since completion of the sentence.
Even though misdemeanor charges can seem minor, you need to talk to a South Carolina criminal defense lawyer if you are ever charged with a crime. A misdemeanor conviction can mean years behind bars or under probation supervision, as well as thousands of dollars in fines and fees. You'll want to talk to your attorney about how the criminal justice process works in South Carolina, as well as ask questions about the impact of a criminal record. A defense attorney can guide you through the process, defend your rights, and fight for the best outcome.
(S.C. Code §§ 16-1-10, -20, 57, -100, -130; 17-22-60, -100, -150, -910; 24-21-410, -440, -480 (2021).)