Criminal or Civil Court

Courtroom Observation Assignment

Goals of Assignment:

  • To enhance your understanding of the substantive law and procedural rules governing the resolution of criminal proceedings in a court of law.
  • To foster the development of a critical perspective about the operation of courts, including an ability to differentiate between “law in the books” and “law in operation.”


A. Court Observation

Students shall VIEW ONE RECORDED COURTROOM SESSION OR attend AT LEAST ONE COURT PROCEEDING to examine personal reactions to our legal system. Court observation allows you to analyze whether preconceived notions you had before entering the courtroom–stay with you when you leave. Confirmation of your feelings or ideas, as well as reflections on why they may have changed, provides depth to Online Learning.

You are responsible for a proceeding or proceedings in a court that LAST UP TO 2 to 3 HOURS. Information concerning scheduling, location, and other details for these courts and others is included in this memo below. You may, however, observe proceedings in any court hearing in South Carolina or any other State. Whatever court you choose, please dress appropriately for court; and, of course, treat court personnel with courtesy and respect.

B. Written Narrative

After your observation, prepare 1 OR 2 page, typed, double-spaced description and analysis of what you observed. The narrative should include:

1. Date and time of your observation; the name of the court and judge you observed.

2. Type of hearing (s) or class observed: criminal, traffic, domestic or preliminary hearing @ municipal or magistrate court and or observe at a general session court a criminal, divorce, child support, custody, or domestic violence case.

3. Describe the content of the hearing (s) or class: the evidence and arguments presented at the hearing; whether the parties were represented by counsel or appeared pro se.

4. Comment on the performance of the attorneys (if any) and judge and describe the judge’s decision(s). Also, please provide your reflections/analysis of the observation, including commentary about how the observation relates to class assignments and discussions.

C. Deadlines

1. Do not wait until the last week to schedule your courtroom observation — it may take more than one trip to court to obtain the information required for your written narrative.

2. Please feel free to turn it in earlier, and keep a copy of your narrative for use in-class discussion.

Options for Court Observation:

D. Courts

County Courts

1. Circuit Court (General Sessions Court or GSC)

General: The Circuit Court is the state’s court of general jurisdiction. It has a civil court, the Court of Common Pleas, and a criminal court, the Court of General Sessions. In addition to its general trial jurisdiction, the Circuit Court has limited appellate jurisdiction over appeals from the Probate Court, Magistrate’s Court, and Municipal Court. The State is divided into sixteen judicial circuits. Each circuit has at least one resident circuit judge who maintains an office in the judge’s home county within the circuit. Forty-nine circuit judges serve the sixteen circuits on a rotating basis, with court terms and assignments determined by the Chief Justice based upon recommendations of Court Administration. Circuit court judges are elected by the General Assembly to staggered terms of six years.

View Some of the County (Abbeville, Greenwood, Laurens, and Newberry) General Session Court Trial Dates and Times (Click the link)

Municipal Courts

2. Municipal Court

The council of each municipality may establish, by ordinance, a municipal court to hear and determine all cases within its jurisdiction. Such courts are part of the unified judicial system.

Municipal courts have jurisdiction over cases arising under ordinances of the municipality, and over all offenses which are subject to a fine not exceeding $500.00 or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days, or both, and which occur within the municipality. In addition, S.C. Code Ann. 22-3-545 provides that municipal courts may hear cases transferred from general sessions, the penalty for which does not exceed one-year imprisonment or a fine of $5,000, or both, upon petition by the solicitor and agreement by the defendant. The powers and duties of a municipal judge are the same as those of a magistrate, concerning criminal matters; however, municipal courts have no civil jurisdiction. The term of a municipal judge is set by the council of the municipality, but cannot exceed four years. Approximately 200 municipalities in South Carolina have chosen to create municipal courts.

All municipal judges are required to complete a training program or pass certification or recertification examinations, or both, within one year of taking office. See S.C. Code Ann. 14-25-15 and Rule 509, SCACR. The examination will be offered three times each year. Members of the South Carolina Bar are exempt from the examination; however, they are required to attend the orientation program.

Each municipal judge must pass a recertification examination within eight years after passing the initial certification examination and at least once every eight years thereafter.

Magistrate Court

3. Magistrate Court

There are approximately 300 magistrates in South Carolina, each serving the county for which he or she is appointed. They are appointed to four-year terms by the Governor upon the advice and consent of the Senate. Magistrates must also pass a certification examination within one year of their appointment. Magistrates generally have criminal trial jurisdiction over all offenses subject to the penalty of a fine, as set by statute, but generally, not exceeding $500.00 or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days, or both. In addition, they are responsible for setting bail, conducting preliminary hearings, and issuing arrest and search warrants. Magistrates have civil jurisdiction when the amount in controversy does not exceed $7,500.

View County Court Dates and or Contact:

Abbeville County

Greenwood County

Laurens County

McCormick County

Newberry County

Saluda County


SUPREME COURT CASE – Please click on a recorded session from the SC Supreme Court. Example below.

GENERAL SESSION COURT – Please click the link below. Click on Trials on Demand in the upper right-hand corner. Please select one Trial to Watch. This will take some time.


BOND COURT – Please click on a recorded session from the Bond Court. Example below.