Last week, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley gave her State of the State speech from the House Chambers in Columbia. In addition to the customary review of South Carolina’s recent track record in education and state budgets, Haley brought up newly-passed and upcoming changes to the criminal domestic violence laws that will impact both the accusers and the accused.
Changes to South Carolina criminal domestic violence laws
Citing statistics that rank South Carolina as having the country’s worst record of women killed by men, Governor Haley’s administration has advocated for reform of the state’s approach to criminal domestic violence (CDV). A year ago, it established a 135-member DVC task force that incorporated 65 organizations across the state. According to the State of the State address, the task force focused on learning each step a domestic violence survivor goes through and each contact point they have that offer an opportunity for intervention.
An early product of that task force was a sentencing law change on June 4, 2015. The change raised the penalties – both the fines and the jail time – for CDV convictions and added new restraining orders. But major procedural changes are expected as well.
The major proposed change would bring prosecutors into the court in domestic violence cases; currently, South Carolina is one of only three states that lets police appear in court to prosecute domestic violence crimes. According to Haley’s speech, “No survivor deserves to show up in court and see a legally untrained police officer arguing his or her side, while a highly-paid defense lawyer argues on behalf of the abuser. If you join me, in South Carolina, no survivor ever will again.” The task force’s $19 million initiative would add nearly 150 prosecutors across the state, as well as 88 public defenders, three Circuit Court judges, and additional judicial staff.
Defending a domestic violence charge in SC
The recent sentencing changes and the proposed procedural amendment make it even more important that someone facing criminal domestic violence charges in South Carolina is represented by an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Some considerations include:
- A first-time offender charged with a third degree crime (the least severe, classified as a misdemeanor) can face jail time up to 90 days and a fine between $1000 and $2500. A conviction of first degree domestic violence carries a penalty of up to 10 years behind bars
- The 2015 law adds two new restraining orders and a defendant who violates it commits a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine up to $2,000.
- Many defendants falsely believe that their spouse can dismiss the charges against them but this is the decision of the state, who will now be represented by prosecutors instead of police officers.
- Conviction of even a misdemeanor crime of CDV will disqualify someone from owning a gun.
A CDV conviction stays with you so if you are facing charges, the first step is to find a highly qualified South Carolina defense lawyer.
Warning: This Does Not Constitute Legal Advice. Do not rely on the accuracy of this information because laws are subject to change. You are strongly encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney in any legal matter. If you take action in your case without an attorney, it may negatively affect your legal rights.
Disclaimer: This information does not create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided in this document is not legal advice, cannot be cited as legal authority, and cannot replace the advice of an attorney in South Carolina.
- Post and Courier, Domestic violence to be focus of Gov. Nikki Haley’s annual State of State, https://www.postandcourier.com/article/20160119/PC1603/160119285/gov-haley-to-step-up-efforts-to-end-abuse
- Washington Times, Text of SC Gov. Nikki Haley’s State of the State address, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jan/20/text-of-sc-gov-nikki-haleys-state-of-the-state-add/
- South Carolina Commission on Prosecution Coordination, Domestic Violence Crimes comparison chart, https://www.masc.sc/SiteCollectionDocuments/Municipal%20Court/SCCPC%20Domestic%20Violence%20Crimes%20Chart.pdf
Mr. Jeffcoat, a native of the Columbia area, founded the law firm in 1999. Mr. Jeffcoat got his undergraduate degree at Wofford College in 1994, majoring in Political Economy and Philosophy, and then went to the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he received his J.D. in 1997. After working in two law firms following his graduation from law school, Jeffcoat ventured out on his own to launch The Jeffcoat Firm in March of 1999.