State law requires each Magistrates Court to maintain a docket for criminal, traffic and civil cases, and to report all fees collected and fines imposed. The department of Summary Court Administration was established in 1977 to provide the administrative support that is required to effectively execute these and many other duties for all Magistrate Courts in Charleston County.
Magistrates have criminal trial jurisdiction over all offenses which are subject to the penalty of a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days, or both. In some specific cases punishment can be more. Magistrates issue warrants, set bonds and hear criminal and traffic cases, as well as preliminary hearings. In addition, magistrates may hear cases transferred from general sessions, the penalty for which does not exceed one year imprisonment or a fine of $5,000, or both, upon petition by the solicitor and agreement by the defendant. Unlike circuit courts and probate courts, magistrate courts are not courts of record. Proceedings in magistrates' courts are summary. Traffic tickets may be paid with money orders or certified checks made payable to the court. Traffic tickets may also be paid online.
Magistrates also have civil jurisdiction when the amount in controversy does not exceed $7,500 and may include such matters as summons and complaint, landlord/tenant actions, trespass, sales of abandoned property and claim and delivery. Magistrates may also issue restraining orders on non-family members.
There are 18 magistrates in Charleston County. They are appointed by the Governor upon the advice and consent of the Senate for four year terms and until their successors are appointed and qualified. Anyone seeking an initial appointment as magistrate must pass an eligibility examination before they can be recommended to the Governor by the senatorial delegation. Magistrates must also attend an orientation program, pass a certification examination within one year of their appointment, and attend a specified number of trials prior to conducting a trial.
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