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Looking for free public records in South Carolina? If you need to access public records for a court case, to find an inmate in South Carolina, or to apply for membership in a professional organization, then you have come to the right place. This guide will show you how to find South Carolina public records quickly and easily.
Public records refer to anything that is created by a government agency—at the local, state, or federal level. For example, any time there is an arrest, trial, and conviction, those events are recorded. Accurate record keeping is essential for good governance, and making those records accessible to the public is also critical for a democracy to function.
Before you learn how to find free public records in South Carolina, it will be helpful to understand more about public records: what they are and which ones you can expect to find.
This guide will also help you find the public records you need to run a background check.
What Are Public Records?
Public records refer to any documents that are created and stored by government agencies. In some cases, government agencies do outsource their public records services and when that happens, the records can still be accessible to you.
Maps, photographs, and other multimedia files can be public records, as can written documents like court records, driving records, or vital records like your birth certificate.
Most of the records you will need will be free and accessible to you. However, the government does need to protect your privacy at the same time as it protects your right to access government documents.
The public records that will be more challenging to find will be those that contain sensitive data. In those cases, you will need proper identification or authorization in order to receive the public records.
This guide will help you distinguish between what is free and open to the public and what you will need additional authorization or identification to find.
Types of Free Public Records Records
The types of free public records you will be looking for generally include documents or files at the local, state, and federal level.
Most of the public records you will need during your search or background check will be at the state level. Therefore, searching through South Carolina government agencies will get you to the public records you need.
When it comes to property records, you may need to search on a county-by-county basis.
Similarly, if you are looking for court records or inmate records from a lawsuit or criminal case that occurred at the county jurisdiction, you would search the circuit courts of that South Carolina county.
What Can You Expect to Find in Free Public Records?
What you can expect to find depends on what you are looking for and whether you have authorization to access those records.
At the very least you can expect to find court records, records related to inmates in South Carolina, records of sexual and violent offenders, and more.
To find things like birth certificates, death certificates, marriage and divorce records, you may need to show identification—typically these records are issued to the actual individual or a close relative only.
This guide will show you what you need to locate each type of public record in South Carolina or elsewhere.
Remember that when people move from state to state or within the state of South Carolina, you may need to look for public records in other states or counties.
You may not be able to find arrest records unless you work in law enforcement, because a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Because of the great potential for employers or landlords to use public records to discriminate against applicants, the government helps safeguard some sensitive data like arrest records, juvenile records, and even credit history records.
Why Public Records are Free
Freedom of information is a fundamental principle in a democracy. The federal government passed the Freedom of Information Act to make sure all citizens can keep tabs on the government. After all, a democracy is a form of government in which the people—the taxpayer—is the government.
In addition to the federal laws guaranteeing information transparency, states usually pass their own laws that help citizens like you find the public records they need.
People search free public records not just for personal reasons or to run background checks. Some people use public records to do research. For instance, journalists use public records to learn about how a particular elected official voted or to find out more about a lawsuit.
You can use the public records to build a case, or when making an appeal to your own legal case. As long as the public records do not contain sensitive data that might breach national security or reveal trade secrets, you can usually find what you are looking for.
The only other exception is when the freedom of information principle clashes with your right to privacy. Some of your personal records are safeguarded to protect your identity.
What is a Background Check?
One of the most common reasons for searching free public records in South Carolina is to run a background check.
Background checks are a fully legal and transparent process by which you can find out whether a person has a criminal background, a good driving record, or is telling the truth about their marital status.
You can run a background check according to your needs. For example, if you are primarily interested in whether the person has a criminal history, you could focus on finding the court documents pertaining to that case.
A background check could include some other things, too, depending on your needs. For instance, if you want to hire someone to drive your children to and from school you would not just want to check their criminal history but also their driving history in South Carolina or wherever else the person may have lived before.
You could also run a background check on someone you just met in an online dating site, to be sure the individual is telling the truth about their identity and their marital status.
The Importance of a Good Background Check
You may wonder if there are other reasons besides making hiring decisions. In fact, running a background check is recommended in several situations you may not have thought of before. Consider the following scenario: you are renovating your home and want to make sure the contractors do a perfect job on your kitchen.
Run a background check on your contractor! Always run background checks on people or companies you hire or outsource. You can learn a lot by running a simple background check, and you are wise to do so. When you run a background check, you do your due diligence and take responsibility for the decisions you make. A background check could reveal, for example, that the contractor had been embroiled in a civil suit related to breach of contract.
In some situations, the law may require you to run a background check. Any time you are hiring a person to work directly with vulnerable populations or with hazardous materials, you will need to run a background check to ensure the public safety.
Therefore, when you are hiring a caregiver of any type, for elders or children, run a background check. If you need a babysitter, housekeeper, or home health aide, run a background check.
In the state of South Carolina, running a background check is standard practice and all applicants will expect that their name will be run through the system to make sure their profile is clear.
Some reasons you may need a background check using free public records in South Carolina include the following:
Moving Day. If you are moving within or to the State of South Carolina and are renting a home or apartment, you should run a background check just as the landlord is going to do with you. Many tenants forget that they have the right to run background checks on their landlords. When you run a background check on a landlord, you can learn whether the person or the property management company has ever been involved in a civil or criminal suit.
Being a Landlord. Of course, you already know that you should run a background check on prospective tenants in South Carolina. It should be standard practice for you, if for no other reason than insurance purposes. The ease of running background checks yourself cannot be underestimated—and it is actually safer to do so yourself because you will avoid the problems that may arise when you use a third-party company or outsource your background checks.
Matchmaking. When you meet new people online or in person, use the power of free public records to inform you about the person’s background. You can have a great time meeting people online, but there are a lot of creeps out there too. Protect yourself, and run a quick background check by accessing the free public records. What little time it takes could even mean the difference between life and death. It could also prevent heartache down the road.
Home Renovations and Office Repairs. When the time comes for you to renovate your home or office space, you may do a lot of the work yourself but invariably find that you need to hire a contractor. A contractor in the State of South Carolina can be vetted properly using the free public records you can access yourself using the tools in this guide.
Childcare and Eldercare. You need to run a background check on anyone who you are entrusting children or elders to, whether for personal reasons or if you are running a daycare business.
Genealogy and Locating Relatives. If you are interested at all in finding your roots and discovering your family’s history, you will eventually need to access public records. Using free public records in South Carolina, you can find birth, marriage and death certificates that give you clues about your ancestors. You can also find some property records in South Carolina. Did you know that you can also use the free public records in South Carolina to locate long lost loved ones, or even family members who have been adopted?
Verifying Your Records. You can—and possibly even should—access the free public records in South Carolina to verify that the information on file is correct. For instance, you can access South Carolina voting records to ensure that you are registered in the correct district. You can also make use of the free public records to arm yourself with knowledge when you are applying for a job. If you know what employers can find out about your past, you will have a much easier time preparing for that interview.
Can Employers Find Out Everything About Me?
Rest assured that empowers are not allowed to use the background check the conduct, or the free public records, to discriminate against you. They are perfectly entitled to find out anything that is public information such as whether you were convicted of a felony.
However, an employer cannot discriminate against you on the grounds that you have bad credit. For this reason, the federal government protects your privacy and prevents discrimination via the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
When you run your own free background check or search the public records yourself, you ensure that your search conforms to the legal parameters outlined in the FCRA–known as an FCRA-compliant background check.
If you want to hire someone else to run background checks for you, be careful that they are FCRA-compliant background checks.
How Can I Find….
The rest of this guide will direct you to the website where you can find the information you need.
Criminal History Records
The first place you can start your search for a person’s criminal history—or your own—is to visit the South Carolina Judicial Branch website.
The good thing about the South Carolina Judicial Branch search function is that it allows you to search for cases at the county or the state levels of jurisdiction.
You can search for cases heard in county courts or even the Supreme Court of South Carolina.
If you are running a background check to comply with state standards, such as to hire someone in the human services, healthcare, or emergency services sectors, then the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control will guide you towards the appropriate free public records you need.
If you are looking for your own driving records from South Carolina, the process if fairly simple.
Just search the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles website.
If you are looking for someone else’s driving record, such as part of your background check on a prospective employee, then you would need the person’s authorization to do so.
When you receive legal authorization, you would then visit the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles to conduct the driver records search.
Missing Persons Records
Missing persons records are kept at the local, state, and federal level because of the fact that many missing persons do end up crossing state lines.
When you are looking for missing children, you can check the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
To check local and state resources on missing persons, you can visit the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
Jail, Prison, and Inmate Records
When an individual is serving a sentence—either jail time or an alternative sentence like probation, there will be a public record of it.
Those public records are kept naturally by the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections makes it easy for you to search for an inmate by first and last name.
Using the search function of the Department of Corrections, you can find a relative who is incarcerated. You can learn how to visit or send money. If you are a victim of a crime, you can search for the inmate for restitution or to find out how much time the person has left on the sentence.
If the person is serving time in a federal prison, or in another state, then you would need to search for records in that jurisdiction.
Sex Offender Records
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division maintains a sex offender registry. The registry allows all citizens to learn the whereabouts of a convicted sex offender, to protect public safety.
Search the free public records related to criminally convicted sex offenders in the State of South Carolina.
You can use the information you find in the sex offender registry to arm yourself with knowledge and to protect your family. However, you cannot legally use the sex offender registry to harass someone.
Property assessment information is usually stored at the county level. In South Carolina, you can easily search through county property records by going to the South Carolina Information Highway (SCIWAY) SCIWAY website.
Unclaimed Property Records
Unclaimed property does not refer to abandoned real estate, but to funds that are left dormant in a bank account, unclaimed dividends or wages accumulated, unclaimed deposits on utilities, or insurance funds.
Unclaimed property can also be money or valuables left in a safety deposit box in a bank.
Sometimes people simply forget that they had these funds before they move, and sometimes the funds are unclaimed when a person passes away.
In any case, you are perfectly entitled to search the free public records in South Carolina to see if there is any money in your name. If you are the primary beneficiary of a will or estate in South Carolina, you can also search for the unclaimed property belonging to the deceased.
When any funds or valuables are unclaimed, the state government—usually the treasurer of the state—will temporary keep and safeguard the funds until the rightful owner can claim them.
Therefore, search the State Treasurer of South Carolina for any unclaimed funds that could be yours now!
The State Treasurer’s Office makes it easy for you to claim money or property now.
As with most states, vital records are considered a public health matter. Therefore, state level health departments are usually the repository of the public records related to deaths, births, marriages, and divorces that take place within the state.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is where you can go to find free public records related to births, deaths, marriages, and divorces—collectively referred to as vital records because they are vital to population data and population health.
All the South Carolina Vital Records Search Forms are on the state Department of Health and Environmental Control website.
In most cases, you will not be able to find the vital records on someone else without their express consent or if you are a beneficiary.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also shows you how to find the vital records you need in South Carolina.
If this is your first time searching for free public records in South Carolina or in any other state, it might seem like a confusing process at first.
Rest assured, the process of running a background check yourself or searching for the public records you need now has never been easier.
The public records you need are online now, searchable digitally and easily obtainable by you.
If you need official copies of the public records, then you may have a small service fee and processing fee to cover, as well as any mailing charges involved. Otherwise, the government keeps public records for you—in the interests of free and open government and freedom of information.