Table of Contents
South Carolina Public Records Laws
The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act makes public all records and meeting notes of public bodies in the state. All citizens and members of the press are allowed to access these records and request copies. “Public bodies” are defined as any agency that is supported by public funds to any degree or that expends public funds in any amount. “Public records” are any form of media retained by a public body, including electronic media such as emails.
Government agencies can only withhold a record if they can cite a specific legal exemption. Valid exemptions include Social Security numbers, trade secrets, tax standards used by the Department of Revenue, information that would violate attorney-client privilege, police records that could damage an active investigation, incomplete contracts and industrial development offers that have not yet been accepted. The law has language that requires exemptions to be interpreted “narrowly”, meaning that only clearly exempt information can be withheld. A partial record can be released with exempt information removed from it.
Agencies are allowed to charge for providing copies of records, but these charges are limited to the actual cost of gathering and copying the records. For paper records, agencies generally ask 10 to 25 cents per page. A written explanation of charges can be requested for amounts that seem excessive, and the cost can also formally be challenged in writing with the head of the agency that is providing the records.
The law specifies that agencies must provide a “timely response” to requests, but does not set an exact time limit for them to reply. Requests are usually filled within 15 business days.
South Carolina Criminal Records, Arrest Records and Background Checks
State background checks are handled by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Searching for criminal records requires either a set of fingerprints, or the subject’s last name, first initial and exact date of birth. A Social Security number can also be used to help ensure there are no false positives but is not required. There is a fee of $25 for each record request with an added $1 convenience fee for those who are requesting the records online. The state’s Sex Offender Registry can be searched online for free.
The general public is only allowed to access conviction information and arrest information related to a conviction. Complete criminal records are only available to the subject of the record and law enforcement agencies who need them for an investigation.
South Carolina Jail and Inmate Records
The South Carolina Department of Corrections provides an online “Inmate Search” tool for people currently incarcerated in a state prison. The inmate must presently be in a state facility; fugitives are not included in the search. This search provides only the full name, age, sex, race, height, weight and SCDC ID of the inmate. Any member of the general public can access this information.
County jail information must be obtained from the County Detention Center or Sheriff’s Office of each individual county. A number of counties either provide their own online search tool, or a daily list of bookings and releases. These searches provide the same information offered at the state level along with a booking mugshot, the nature of the charges, bail amount, arresting agency and the projected release date where applicable.
South Carolina Court Records
Case records for all counties in the state can be searched for online at the South Carolina Judicial Department website. Searches can only be conducted in one individual county at a time, however.
South Carolina Vital Records
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is responsible for issuing birth certificates, death certificates, divorce reports, marraige certificates and information about adoptions. It is possible to request all of these records in person at the DHEC State Vital Records Office in Columbia, by mail, by phone, or online through the VitalChek service.
Divorce records are only available from July 1962 to December 2012. The original county of issue should be contacted for records that fall outside of these dates.