Frequently Asked Questions About South Carolina Juvenile Court

What happens when a minor is arrested in South Carolina?

The South Carolina Department of Justice (DJJ) will conduct an “intake” to complete a comprehensive psychological, social, and educational assessment of the child. A caseworker with DJJ will be assigned, and will interview the child and the child’s parents or guardian to compile background information. The caseworker will obtain the child’s school records, medical records, and determine what services, if any, are needed. The type services available include mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and counseling.

Can a minor be arrested for a crime in South Carolina?

A minor, under the age of seventeen years, can be taken into custody by the State. However, the procedure is quite different from an adult arrest. A minor is not served an arrest warrant. Rather, a Petition is filed with the Family Court alleging that the minor has committed a crime or a status offense, such as truancy. Some common crimes committed by a minor include:

  • Possession by a Minor
  • Drug Possession
  • Assault and Battery
  • Possession of a Weapon and
  • Malicious Injury to Personal Property

What is a status offense?

In South Carolina, a “status offense” is defined as an offense that is only an offense when committed by a minor. Common status offenses include:

  • Runaway
  • Truancy
  • Incorrigibility (that a minor is uncontrollable) and
  • Loitering

Where does a minor go once they are taken into custody?

A minor does not go to jail. If taken into custody, the first decision made by law enforcement is whether the minor can be released to parents or a guardian. If not released, DJJ will place the minor in an approved foster home, a group juvenile program or facility. Otherwise, the minor is placed in a juvenile detention facility.

Is law enforcement permitted to question the minor without a parent?

In South Carolina, law enforcement is permitted to question a minor without a parent or guardian present. Nonetheless, the minor is entitled to the same constitutional rights as an adult when in custody, such as the right to not make a statement (right to remain silent) and the right to an attorney.

What happens if the minor is placed in a juvenile detention facility after the Detention Hearing?

First, the detention hearing must occur within forty-eight hours of the minor being taken into custody. The reasons that a minor might be held in a detention facility are:

  • Possession of a deadly weapon;
  • Allegation of a violent crime as defined by South Carolina law;
  • No other suitable placement available; and
  • In the best interest of protecting the minor, the public or both.

Unless waived, the minor has the right to an attorney at the detention hearing. A reasonable effort must be made to notify the parent(s) or guardian of the detention hearing, however, the hearing may be conducted without with the parent(s) or guardian if a reasonable effort is made.

DJJ will provide the court with the facts surrounding the allegation(s), as well as make a recommendation of whether the minor should be detained. If detained, the minor is screened within twenty-four hours to determine whether any services are necessary.

The court can appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the minor. The GAL’s duties include investigating the facts, participating in negotiations, advocating on behalf of the minor, and expressing an opinion as to the best interests of the minor.

Finally, a minor under the age of eleven years cannot be place in a detention facility, and for a minor aged eleven or twelve years, a court order is required to place the minor in a detention facility.

How long can a juvenile be kept in a detention center?

If the minor is detained, then the minor can have another hearing. The minor is entitled to an additional hearing; (1) within ten days of the detention hearing (ten day hearing); (2) within thirty days of the ten day hearing; and (3) at any other time for good cause. A minor cannot be detained longer than ninety days without a finding of exceptional circumstances by the court.

If the minor is in custody for a status offense, the minor cannot be held in a detention facility for more than twenty-four hours, except in the case of a minor who has violated a court’s order, and then the minor can be held in a detention facility for seventy-two hours.

Does a minor have the right to a trial by jury?

If the minor is tried as a child in family court, it will not be a jury trial in South Carolina. A minor has the right to a jury trial only in the event the minor is “waived” to adult criminal court. In family court, the presiding judge will serve as the judge of the law and the judge of the facts, and render a verdict. The burden of proof in family court is the same as in adult criminal court, beyond a reasonable doubt.

How can a minor be waived to adult criminal court?

In order to prosecute a minor as an adult, the minor must be “waived” up to adult criminal court. A minor is eligible to be waived up to adult criminal court if the minor is:

  • charged with murder;
  • 17 and charged with a misdemeanor, a Class E or F felony as defined in § 16-1-20, or a felony which, if committed by an adult, would carry a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or less, after full investigation:
  • 14, 15 or 16 and charged with an offense which, if committed by an adult, would be a Class A,B,C, or D felony or a felony which provides for a maximum term of imprisonment of 15 years or more, after full investigation and a hearing;
  • 14 or older and charged with §16-23-430(1) (carrying a weapon on school property), §16-23-20 (unlawful carrying of a handgun), or §44-53-445 (unlawful distribution of drugs within a half-mile of a school), after full investigation and a hearing. § 63-19-1210(4)-(6),(9); and
  • – 14 or older charged with an offense which, if committed by an adult provide for a term of imprisonment of ten years or more and the child previously has been adjudicated or convicted for two prior offenses which, if committed by an adult, provide for a term of imprisonment of ten years or more, after full investigation and a hearing. (An adjudication or conviction is considered a second adjudication or conviction only if the second offense was committed after the sentence for the first offense was imposed.) § 63-19-1210(10).

The court decides whether to waive the minor to adult criminal court by considering the following eight factors established by the U.S. Supreme Court:

  • The seriousness of the offense and whether waiver is necessary to protect the public;
  • Whether the nature of the child’s acts were aggressive, violent, or willful in nature;
  • Whether the child’s alleged offenses were against persons or property;
  • Whether there is sufficient evidence for an Indictment;
  • The existence of an adult co-defendant that makes it desirable to present the entire case in one court;
  • The child’s sophistication and maturity;
  • Prior criminal record; and
  • Whether the public is adequately protected considering the child’s reasonable rehabilitation using the services available to the court.

Can a minor enter programs like Pretrial Intervention?

In family court, the state has options to divert cases out of the justice system. These options provide the minor with the opportunity to complete a program and have the matter dismissed. Minors who qualify for these programs include non-violent offenders, first time offenders, or minors with a substance abuse problem.

The programs include:

  • Juvenile Arbitration – The minor enters an agreement to allow an a neutral third-party decide the punishment after hearing a presentation by the minor’s attorney, any victims, the parents or guardians, and law enforcement.
  • Drug Court – The minor is required to complete drug treatment and education;
  • Community Service – The minor is required to perform a specific number of hours assisting a non-profit business; and
  • Restitution – The minor is required to repay victims.

What takes place at the adjudicatory hearing ?

If the case is not diverted with some program, an adjudicatory hearing is scheduled. A minor is not judged guilty or not guilty. Rather, in family court the determination is whether the minor is adjudicated delinquent. Once the hearing arrives to determine whether the minor is responsible for the alleged offense(s), the minor has two options, including foregoing the trial and entering a plea of delinquent or trial before the judge. In a trial, the prosecutor presents evidence, DJJ will submit any evaluations completed, the GAL will present an opinion, and the minor’s attorney will present evidence. The judge will then determine if the minor is adjudicated delinquent or not using the “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden.

What takes place if a minor is adjudicated delinquent?

If the judge adjudicates the minor delinquent following the trial, the judge handles the disposition phase to determine the minor’s sentence. The judge will consider evaluation reports, the seriousness of the offense(s), school records, behavior at home, and prior court history. The judge may also order the minor to undergo an evaluation before issuing the sentencing. This evaluation is conducted by DJJ, and reports on the minor’s background, and psychological, social and educational needs. The minor may be sent to an evaluation center for up to forty-five days and receive a medical examination.

The judge may then:

  • Order that the minor be examined or treated by a physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist or even be hospitalized;
  • Order the minor to participate in a community mentor program
  • Suspend or restrict the minor’s driver’s license;
  • Place the minor on probation; and/or
  • Commit the minor to a detention facility.

If probation is the sentence, it can be order from any period of time up to the minor’s eighteenth birthday. The terms of probation can include:

  • School attendance
  • Random alcohol and drug testing
  • Restitution
  • Community service
  • Home detention with electronic monitoring
  • Curfew
  • Counseling
  • Mental health treatment
  • Substance abuse treatment

If the minor is committed to a detention facility, the sentence can be either a fixed amount of time or an indeterminate period of time. If indeterminate, the minor is sentenced to a detention facility for an indeterminate amount of time but not to exceed the minor’s twenty-first birthday. A minor may still be released from an indeterminate sentence prior to the age of twenty-one, however, that decision is made by South Carolina Board of Juvenile Parole. A minor sentence to an indeterminate sentence who is released before the age of twenty-one will be supervised by DJJ is a conditional release. Also, the released minor may be required to pay restitution, perform community service, or complete a local program in the community.

Can a parent be liable for property damage caused by a minor in South Carolina?

Pursuant to Section 63-5-60, Code of Laws of South Carolina, 1976, as amended, a parent or legal guardian can be liable for up to $5,000.00 in damage to real or personal property caused by a minor who lives with the parent or the guardian and who is under the age of 18. The victim is required to bring a separate civil action to recover money damages.

Can the minor’s record be expunged?

Once the minor reaches the age of eighteen years, and has completed the sentence, the minor can petition the family court for an order destroying all records. The expungement is in the discretion of the family court judge.