Legal Rights of 17-Year-Olds in South Carolina

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Before 2019, 17-year-olds in South Carolina had slightly more rights than they do today. While there are obvious restrictions on drinking alcohol, using tobacco, owning and purchasing guns, and moving out on their own, there are some rights that individuals who are 17 years of age and living in South Carolina still have.

Are 17-Year-Olds Juveniles Under South Carolina Law?

Seventeen-year-olds once had more rights in South Carolina than they currently do because in June 2016, the Governor of South Carolina signed Senate Bill 916 into law, which took effect on July 1, 2019. At that point, some of the rights of a 17-year-old were lost until age 18.

Senate Bill 916 changed the juvenile justice code definition of child and juvenile from less than 17 to less than 18. While a seemingly small change, this bill had a great impact on the minor child, their family, and family law, particularly when it came to the commission of a crime.

Crime and 17-Year-Olds in South Carolina

Those under 18 who are arrested in South Carolina typically go through the state’s juvenile justice system, or family court. In some states, when teens face accusations of serious crimes, they are tried as adults in criminal court.

Until July 2019, 17-year-olds in South Carolina could be tried as adults, but with the change in the law, they cannot be tried as adults until they turn 18.

Benefits of Juvenile Court Under State Law

Lawmakers wanted to ensure that 17-year-olds stayed in the state’s family court system because the benefits of juvenile court include:

  • The standard of what’s in the best interest of the child, as opposed to proving guilt of the individual beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Eligibility for arbitration and sentence to a diversion program that can lead to dismissal of a criminal charge.
  • Access to support services, including counseling, education and rehabilitation.

Possible Family Court Orders for Juveniles

The family court can order a juvenile to participate in a community mentor program, or order a medical exam and treatment. It may place the juvenile on probation, restrict or suspend their driver’s license, or commit the juvenile to a state juvenile justice institution.

When the minor turns 18 and successfully completes their sentence, their criminal record may be eligible for expungement.

Seventeen-Year-Olds and Marriage in South Carolina

If a 17-year-old in South Carolina wishes to marry, they can. In fact, teens 16 and over can wed in the state, but both parties must be at least 16 to legally marry. In order to get married in South Carolina, the couple must first get a marriage license. Their county probate court or clerk of court typically issues marriage licenses.

For a person who is 17 to get a marriage license, they must have the written consent of their parents or guardian. If the person getting married is pregnant or has already had a child, and she and the child’s father wish to be married, they can get a license regardless of the age of either party as long as they have parental or legal guardian approval.

Emancipation for Minors in South Carolina

When a person reaches 18, they are considered an adult (this is known as the age of majority) and they are said to be emancipated. This typically means that their parents no longer have legal responsibility to them and they no longer must answer to their parents.

At this stage, their parents are not legally required to provide them with an education, food, clothing or even medical care.

There are times when a minor wishes to become emancipated and be treated as an adult. This can happen through an agreement between the child and their parents, if the child can provide for themselves financially, or if the child marries.

South Carolina Emancipated Minor Process

South Carolina doesn’t have a specific statute regarding the process of emancipation. However, a minor can petition the juvenile court to become legally emancipated by showing that they can support themselves and that emancipation is in their best interest.

Their parents can also show that the child is financially able to support themselves by requesting to stop child support payments, and prove that the minor is self-supporting through pay stubs, diplomas and other documents.

Minors and Contracts in South Carolina

A minor in South Carolina cannot enter into a legally binding agreement, such as a contract. But if a 17-year-old does enter into a contract, they can make it legally binding through ratification, or agreeing to it in writing, when they turn of legal age at 18.

After ratification, the 18-year-old cannot change their mind and avoid the contract. Ratification includes a minor’s words or conduct that show an intent to be bound by the contract.

South Carolina Driving Privileges

South Carolina has a graduated driver's license program for drivers ages 15 to 17. This program allows teens time to become a better driver. When they are 16, they must drive on a Conditional or Special Restricted license with certain restrictions:

  • They cannot have more than two passengers under 21 with them while driving, without a licensed adult 21 or over also in the car, unless they are transporting students or family members to and from school.
  • They can drive alone only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (During daylight savings time, until 8 p.m.)
  • When driving at night, a licensed driver at least age 21 must be in the car. The teen driver can drive only until midnight.
  • Drivers on a restricted license can drive between midnight until 6 a.m. only if they are with a licensed individual listed on the DMV’s Consent for Minor (SCDMV Form 447-CM).

At 17, a driver earns full driving privileges in South Carolina as long as they have had their Conditional or Special Restricted license for one year, have no traffic offenses, and were not at fault in any accidents.

Minors and Medical Consent in South Carolina

In South Carolina, minors can consent to health care services if they are legally emancipated, married or in the military. Those 16 and older can:

  • Consent to health care services not requiring an operation.
  • Consent to surgery if it is essential for their health or life according to the performing physician’s opinion and a consultant physician if available.

Individuals under 18 years old in South Carolina can consent to certain health care services without consent from their parent or guardian:

  • Pregnancy tests and prenatal care with the exception of abortion.
  • Contraceptive and family planning care.
  • STD testing and treatment.
  • HIV/AIDS testing and treatment.
  • PrEP treatment to prevent HIV prevention.
  • Substance abuse treatment.
  • Mental health services (outpatient).
  • Emergency care in the event a proposed medical or surgical treatment is reasonably necessary, according to competent medical judgment, an individual authorized to give consent for the minor is not available, and a treatment delay would jeopardize the minor’s health or life.

Seventeen-Year-Olds and Labor Laws in South Carolina

When working in South Carolina, minors aged 16 and 17 do not have the hour and scheduling restrictions that younger workers do. These teens may work as many hours per day and per week that the job requires or the employer requests.

However, they cannot work in an occupation or carry out tasks that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) deems hazardous.

The FLSA’s 17 Hazardous Occupations and tasks are:

  • Storing and building explosives.
  • Driving a vehicle and working as an outside helper.
  • Coal mining.
  • Sawmilling or logging.
  • Woodworking machines (power-driven).
  • Radioactive substance exposure and exposure to ionizing radiations.
  • Work a power-driven hoisting apparatus.
  • Work power-driven metal-forming, shearing and punching machines.
  • Mining (not coal mining).
  • Meat processing and packing.
  • Using bakery machines (power-driven).
  • Using paper products machines.
  • Manufacturing tile, brick and other related products.
  • Using band saws, circular saws and guillotine shears (power-driven).
  • Conducting demolition, wrecking and ship-breaking operations.
  • Conducting roofing operations.
  • Conducting excavation operations.

Right to Child Support for Teens

South Carolina does not consider a minor to be an adult until they turn 18, and a parent typically pays child support until they turn that age. At 18, they are considered adults who can make their own legal decisions.

However, if the child is emancipated before 18, the state no longer mandates support. Minors do not need child support if they are married, join the military or move away from their parents' home to support themselves financially.

Right to Join the Military

A 17-year-old in South Carolina can join the U.S. military and service academy if they have parental consent. If they are 18, they do not need their parent’s consent. Those joining the service academy must meet age requirements by July 1 of the year they enter the academy.

South Carolina has its own State Guard, which is different from the National Guard. To join the State Guard an individual must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or have declared an intention to become one.
  • Not have a dishonorable discharge from the state military, state naval organization or U.S. military.
  • Be at least 17 years old.

Use of Tobacco Products by Minors

In December 2019, the U.S. raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21. While some states did not raise the minimum age for this purpose, federal law now takes precedence.

In South Carolina, it is a crime for anyone to give or sell tobacco or alternative nicotine products to persons under the age of 18. It is also a civil offense for anyone under 18 to buy or possess tobacco or alternative nicotine products. A minor who violates this law faces certain penalties:

  • Fines.
  • Completion of smoking cessation classes or community service.
  • Delay, suspension or restriction of driving privileges.

Seventeen-Year-Olds and Guns in South Carolina

According to Giffords Law Center , a person aged 17 in South Carolina cannot possess or acquire a handgun. It is also illegal to knowingly barter, deliver, lease, rent, offer for sale or sell or exchange a handgun with anyone under 18.

This law does not apply to loaning handguns temporarily to minors who are under the immediate supervision of an adult instructor or parent. There is also no minimum age to buy or possess a rifle in South Carolina.