SC courts reopen under new procedures during COVID-19 pandemic

South Carolina News

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – On Friday, the Chief Justice of the SC Supreme Court issued an order providing guidance for trial court proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the declaration of emergency, most courts have effectively been closed. This order permits general sessions, family court, probate court, and bond hearings to be conducted virtually.

The order also authorizes oaths to be administered virtually.

Non-jury trials can be conducted if they are for emergency purposes, or if both parties consent to conducting the trial under modified conditions. The order states that “the Chief Judge or the appropriate judge responsible for scheduling matters must find that the trial can be conducted in a manner to minimize the risk such as limiting the persons present to the parties, counsel and necessary witnesses, or that the trial may be conducted using remote communication technology.”

Hearings should be conducted virtually as well. If for some reason an emergency circumstance necessitates an in-person hearing, the order states that “only attorneys, the parties, and necessary witnesses will be allowed to appear.” Only 10 people will be permitted, and hearings will be staggered to limit the number of people present at the same time, according to the order.

In the case of bond hearings, which are to conducted at least once daily, judges are asked to consider the need to reduce the prison population:

“In addition to the normal factors for determining whether the defendant will be required to post a bond or will be released on a personal recognizance, the judge should consider the need to minimize the detention center population during this emergency.”

For more information and to read the full order, click here.

Under the order, all efforts should be made to allow a court reporter to be present. If it is not possible, “a trial or hearing authorized under this order may proceed if a recording (preferably both audio and video) is made.  The judge shall conduct the proceedings in a manner that will allow a court reporter to create a transcript at a later date.”

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