Juvenile Criminal Courts
In South Carolina, if a child under the age of seventeen is accused of committing a crime, usually he will be tried as a juvenile in family court. In the case of certain serious crimes, specific legal steps can be taken to have the minor declared an adult for the purposes of prosecution. When a juvenile is taken into custody by the police, his parents or guardian are notified and asked to come to the police station. The police may question the juvenile without his parents present, but the juvenile has the right to remain silent. The juvenile has the right to a lawyer, and the court will appoint a lawyer to represent him if his family cannot afford to hire a lawyer. If the parents do not want the child to talk to the police, they should advise the child not to talk to the police without the advice of the lawyer. Anything the juvenile says can be used against him in court.
A juvenile is usually released into the parents' custody upon their written promise to bring him to court. If the crime is a felony, and the police think it is necessary, a child may be detained. The decision to detain must be agreed to by a representative of the Department of Youth Services. A detention hearing must be held within 48 hours after the juvenile has been picked up. This does not include Sundays and holidays. At the hearing, a family court judge may order the child to be kept in jail or be released to his parent or guardian. If the child is not released within seven days, the family court Judge must review the case every seven days and again consider whether the child should be held in jail until his court date.
When a petition (which is like an arrest warrant for an adult) is filed against a juvenile, he and his parents are directed to appear at the local office of the Department of Youth Services for an interview with an intake officer. At this interview, the juvenile may have a lawyer present. On a minor charge, the intake officer may recommend that the case not go to court, and place the juvenile on an informal program or on a behavior contract supervised by the Department of Youth Services' counselor. This depends on the seriousness of the crime and the juvenile's prior record. The case may be referred to a family court judge for adjudication.
If the juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, the judge may return him home and order that he be evaluated in his community, or if an evaluation is not necessary, the judge may have the dispositional hearing immediately and the child may be given probation. Otherwise, the judge might send the juvenile to the Department of Youth Services Reception and Evaluation Center in Columbia. The child can be kept there for up to 45 days while an evaluation is done. This is required before the child can be incarcerated at a Department Youth Services facility for an indeterminate period of time. Once the evaluation is completed, a second hearing, called the dispositional hearing will be held before the same judge. A judge can commit a juvenile to the Department Youth Services or he can place the juvenile on probation under the supervision of a probation counselor.
When a juvenile is sent to the Department of Youth Services, he goes for an indefinite length of time. He can not be kept there past his 21st birthday. If a juvenile is sent to the Department of Youth Services, he may be assigned to one of three institutions: Willow Lane, John G. Richards or Birchwood, depending on his age, sex, type of offense and special needs. He may also be assigned to a smaller group home in or near his home town.
How long the juvenile will be kept at the Department of Youth Services will depend in part on his behavior while there, the charge against him and any prior delinquent record. When he is released, he may be placed on parole in the community and have an aftercare counselor to report to regularly. Most aftercare lasts about a year or until the juvenile is seventeen. Sometimes, the juvenile may be released unconditionally.
Under some circumstances, a court record can be used against the juvenile later as an adult but there are other serious consequences to having a juvenile record; therefore, it is recommended that a juvenile accused of a crime have a lawyer to protect his rights and advise him properly.
When a juvenile is eighteen, he may ask the court for an order to destroy his juvenile record. This applies only to records for non-violent crimes and status offenses, such as truancy. Certain conditions must be met, and the decision to destroy the record is totally up to a judge. A lawyer can also help with this process.

This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 799-7100 in Richland or Lexington Counties, and 1-800-868-2284 from other parts of the state.