Magistrate & Municipal Court Offenses

South Carolina’s magistrate and municipal courts have jurisdiction over all criminal offenses that are punishable by 30 days or less, with some exceptions that include driving under the influence (DUI), driving under suspension (DUS), domestic violence (DV), and others.

All such offenses that occur within city limits are heard by the municipal court for that city or town. If an offense occurs outside of city limits, within unincorporated areas of the county, the case will be heard by the magistrate court for the area where the alleged offense occurred.

How Many Magistrate and Municipal Courts are There in SC?

There are over 200 municipal courts in the state of South Carolina, and approximately 300 magistrate courts.

In Horry County alone, there are municipal courts in Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Conway, Briarcliffe Acres, Loris, Aynor, and Atlantic Beach, and there are also nine magistrates in the county.

To complicate this further, many magistrate courts across the state have consolidated certain types of cases into centralized courts that only hear certain types of cases. For example, in Horry County, there are additional consolidated magistrate courts that include:

  • Horry County Central Traffic Court;
  • Horry County Domestic Violence Court;
  • Central Preliminary Hearing Court;
  • A centralized Magistrate Bond Court; and
  • Two Central Jury Courts.

Many other counties in South Carolina, including Richland County, have similar systems in place.

Which Jail Does a Person Go to When They are Arrested in SC?

If a person is arrested outside of city limits, they will usually be taken to the county jail - J. Reuben Long Detention Center for Horry County (Myrtle Beach and Conway) or the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Richland County (Columbia, S.C.).

If a person is arrested within city limits, they will usually be held at the city jail until bond is set. Usually within a day or two after bond has been set, if they are unable to bond out, the person will be transferred to the county jail.  

How do I Know When My Court Date Is?

If you are charged with a traffic offense or other misdemeanor in the magistrate court or the municipal court, including DUI (driving under the influence) or DV (domestic violence), there will be a court date written on your ticket. You ticket will tell you the location of the court, the time of your court appearance, the name of the officer, and what you are being charged with.  

If you do not appear on this date, you may be found guilty in your absence. Depending on which county you are arrested in, you may be required to appear in the lower court on the court date on your ticket even if there are additional, more serious, charges that will be in General Sessions.

Should I Plead Guilty to the Magistrate or Municipal Court Charges?

If you have more serious charges that are in General Sessions Court, pleading guilty (even if it is a fine or time served) to the lesser charges can hurt you in the more serious case. Once you have admitted to the lesser crime, that admission can be used against you for the more serious charges if they are related.

By pleading guilty to the lesser charges, you may also be giving up important defenses to the more serious case like the ability to challenge probable cause for the arrest or traffic stop. It could prevent you from asking the court to exclude evidence based on Fourth Amendment or other constitutional violations, and it could result in a conviction on the more serious offenses.

Should I Plead Guilty if I Only Have Misdemeanor Charges in Magistrate or Municipal Court?

Even if your only charges are misdemeanors in magistrate or municipal court, you should never plead guilty at your bond hearing or before you talk to your criminal defense lawyer. Although the court may sentence you to a fine or time served, the judge can sentence you to jail time.

The judge is also not likely to tell you about the collateral consequences you may suffer from a conviction like:

  • License suspensions;
  • License revocations or habitual offender status;
  • ADSAP and ignition interlock requirements for DUI offenses;
  • A permanent criminal record that cannot be expunged;
  • The possibility of losing your job and the difficulty of finding another one with a criminal record;
  • Graduated offenses that may result in severe penalties if you are arrested again for a similar offense;
  • Loss of housing; and
  • Inability to get financial aid after certain types of convictions.

The judge will also probably not tell you that, if you bond out and hire a criminal defense attorney, there is a good chance your case may be dismissed, you could enter a pre-trial program that would result in a dismissal and expungement, your charges may be reduced, or you may have valid defenses at trial.

Do I Need to Request a Jury Trial in Magistrate or Municipal Court?

When you call the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm for a lower court offense, we will usually do a written jury trial request immediately – that doesn’t mean you are going to trial, but it gives us the opportunity to investigate, get the evidence in your case, negotiate a dismissal or reduced charge, and prepare for trial if the prosecutor or judge does not dismiss your case.

Once a jury trial has been requested, your case will be moved to the jury trial roster and, in most cases, you will not be required to appear on the date which is on your ticket (always check with your lawyer regarding when you must appear in court).

We will handle any roster meetings or pre-trial conferences that are scheduled, and you usually will not have to appear in court unless a trial date is scheduled.

SC Magistrate and Municipal Defense Attorney in Lexington, Columbia, and Myrtle Beach

Whether your family member was just arrested and is waiting for their bond hearing, or you’ve already bonded out and you are ready to fight the charges, we want to help. We only accept criminal defense cases so that we have the knowledge and experience that you need to get your case dismissed or take it to trial. 

Call the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm today at 843-444-6122 or contact us online to set up a free consultation to see how we can help.