Last updated: November 1, 2013
Columbia mixes historical significance with good old southern hospitality in the heart of the Midlands. Soda City is full of youth energy from the University of South Carolina and our revitalized downtown, but still overflowing with southern charm (not to mention our signature tangy BBQ!). Southern charm may not be quite as overflowing in one of the many courts in the state’s capital, but we nevertheless could find ourselves there for any number of reasons ranging from jury duty to a traffic ticket. If so, you may have questions about where to go and what you’ll find in one of the many courtrooms in Columbia.
The South Carolina court system may seem complex at first, but it is actually quite straightforward. The Circuit Court is the primary trial level court in South Carolina, though for small-time cases you may have business with either the Municipal or Magistrate Courts. Specialized cases may find the Probate or Family Courts more appropriate. And up top, the Supreme Court reviews cases already decided by lower courts. Knowing which court is appropriate for your particular legal matter is critical to your success, so here is a guide to some of the key courthouses in Columbia.
The Richland County Judicial Center is home to the Circuit Court, the Family Court and the Probate Court. The Circuit Court is the primary trial court in Columbia. It is divided into the Court of Common Pleas for civil matters and the Court of General Sessions for criminal cases. The Family Court handles juvenile cases and domestic matters. The Probate Court oversees the division of deceased individuals’ property, issues marriage licenses, and appoints guardians and conservators for minors and incapacitated people. Browse the court’s website to find the proper forms for your civil, criminal, or family case. If you have any doubts as to which courthouse is appropriate for your cases, the Richland County Judicial Center is usually the right answer.
The Magistrate Court handles minor cases and routine hearings. They operate the small claims court for civil lawsuits up to $7,500, and conduct felony preliminary hearings before the criminal case is transferred to Circuit Court. They also conduct hearings for minor criminal matters and certain civil cases. It’s a good idea to read South Carolina’s thorough Guide to Magistrate Court if you have business here or are considering filing a small claim.
The Richland Central Traffic Court is the branch of the Magistrate Court that exclusively handles traffic matters. Check your ticket to see whether it was issued by the city or the county, to figure out whether your business is here or at the Municipal Court. Tickets can be paid online.
The Columbia Municipal Court handles violations of city ordinance and minor misdemeanors. Instead of paying your ticket in person, save time by paying tickets online instead. You should park in the Lincoln Street parking garage, located directly across Washington Street from the courthouse (best part- the first hour is free).
As its name suggests, the Supreme Court Building houses the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has the final word on all issues of state law. The South Carolina Supreme Court is unique in that it can handle trial-level cases in rare instances (state supreme courts mostly review cases decided in a lower court). Certain cases, such as capital punishment, will be automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court; otherwise you must petition them for review.
The Matthew J. Perry, Jr. Courthouse is a branch of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. This court exclusively handles federal matters at the trial level. If you are thinking of representing yourself in a federal civil action, you should read through this valuable guide first. The District of South Carolina lay within the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has appellate jurisdiction over South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, and is headquartered in Richmond.