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Susan Williams

Domestic Violence Laws in SC

Domestic violence laws in SC cast a wide net, meaning they often trap the innocent as well as the guilty.

In many cases, prosecutors will refuse to dismiss domestic violence cases despite a lack of evidence.

Both prosecutors and law enforcement agencies may be given financial grants based on how many domestic violence cases they prosecute which influences judgment as well.

In addition, prosecutors are very concerned about public opinion, which is why they vigorously prosecute every domestic violence case that comes across their desk.

Domestic Violence in South Carolina is a serious problem and is the reason why you may need the guidance of a domestic violence attorney that has handled domestic violence cases as a defense attorney and former prosecutor if you’re facing this charge.

In this article you will learn:

  • The definition of domestic violence in South Carolina,
  • The 4 charges for domestic violence in South Carolina,
  • The potential penalties for a domestic violence conviction, and
  • The answers to several common questions about SC domestic violence charges.

South Carolina Domestic Violence Charges

If you have been charged under SC’s domestic violence laws, you need a domestic violence lawyer on your side immediately who has experience defending domestic violence (DV) cases and who may help you with your options in your case and mitigate the consequences of your arrest.

But first, let’s explore domestic violence offenses, penalties, consequences and more.

What’s Considered Domestic Violence in SC?

According to South Carolina law, Domestic Violence can occur between two people who:

  • Currently live together,
  • Used to live together,
  • Are currently married,
  • Used to be married, or
  • Have a child together.

Although aggravating factors can result in more serious DV charges, the basic elements of DV 3rd degree are that a person:

  • Caused physical harm to the alleged victim, or
  • Threatened to cause immediate physical harm to the alleged victim.

Domestic Violence Laws in SC: Degrees & Penalties

There are four domestic violence charges under SC law, and each has increased potential penalties based on the increased severity of the facts alleged, including DV third, second, and first degree and DVHAN (domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature).

Domestic Violence 3rd Degree SC

SC Code Section 16-25-20 contains the elements that a prosecutor must prove to get a conviction for each degree of domestic violence.

The “basic” domestic violence charge is 3rd-degree domestic violence – each degree above 3rd degree has enhanced penalties based on aggravating factors. For third-degree domestic violence, the state must prove that the defendant:

  1. Caused physical harm or injury to a household member, or
  2. Threatened or attempted to cause physical harm or injury to a household member.

But who qualifies as a household member?

SC Code Section 16-25-10 says that a “household member” can be:

  • A spouse,
  • A former spouse,
  • Persons who have a child in common, or
  • A male and female who live together or formerly have lived together.

What if an LGBTQ spouse or partner commits domestic violence? Can they be arrested, even though they do not fit the definition of a “male and female who live together” under SC’s domestic violence laws? This topic is still up for debate, as of March 2022. In Doe v. State, the SC Supreme Court held that the “male and female” language found in SC’s domestic violence laws is unconstitutional and that the domestic violence laws must apply equally to LGBTQ couples and straight couples. There is an Attorney General opinion that says otherwise.

Domestic Violence 2nd Degree SC

Second-degree domestic violence is when a person commits all of the above factors of third-degree domestic violence and:

  • It results in moderate bodily injury (see definition below) or could have resulted in moderate bodily injury,
  • The accused person was violating a protective order,
  • The accused person has a prior conviction for DV in the past ten years,
  • The domestic violence was committed in front of a minor,
  • The domestic violence was committed against a pregnant woman,
  • The domestic violence was committed during a robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or theft,
  • The defendant choked the alleged victim, or
  • The defendant prevented the alleged victim from calling police or EMS for help.

“Moderate bodily injury” is defined in SC’s domestic violence laws as physical injury that involves:

  • Prolonged loss of consciousness,
  • Temporary or moderate disfigurement,
  • Temporary loss of the function of a bodily member,
  • Medical treatment with regional or general anesthesia, or
  • A fracture or dislocation.

Moderate bodily injury does not mean one-time treatment for “scratches, cuts, abrasions, bruises, burns, splinters,” or any other minor injuries that do not require extensive medical care.

Domestic Violence 1st Degree SC

First-degree domestic violence is when a person commits third-degree domestic violence (as outlined above) and:

  • It results in great bodily injury or could have resulted in great bodily injury,
  • The accused person committed second-degree DV while violating a protective order,
  • The accused person has two or more prior convictions for DV in the past ten years,
  • The accused person used a firearm while committing the offense,
  • Second-degree domestic violence was committed in front of a minor,
  • Second-degree domestic violence was committed against a pregnant woman,
  • Second-degree domestic violence was committed during a robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or theft,
  • While committing second-degree DV, the defendant choked the alleged victim, or
  • While committing second-degree DV, the defendant prevented the alleged victim from calling police or EMS for help.

“Great bodily injury” means bodily injury that causes:

  • A substantial risk of death,
  • Serious, permanent disfigurement, or
  • Protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ.

Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature (DVHAN)

The elements of domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature, or DVHAN, are found in SC Code § 16-25-65.

DVHAN is when a person commits third-degree domestic violence and:

  • The person showed “extreme indifference to the value of human life and great bodily injury to the victim results,”
  • The accused person showed “extreme indifference to the value of human life” and the alleged victim reasonably feared “imminent great bodily injury or death;” or
  • The accused person committed domestic violence 1st degree while violating a protective order.

“Circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life” include:

  • Use of a deadly weapon,
  • Knowingly and intentionally choking a person resulting in stupor or loss of consciousness,
  • Committing the offense in the presence of a minor,
  • Committing the offense against a pregnant person,
  • Committing the offense during a robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or theft, or
  • Using physical force to prevent the alleged victim from reporting the crime, injury, or property damage or to prevent the alleged victim from calling police or EMS for help.

Potential Penalties for Domestic Violence in SC

The potential penalties for the degrees of domestic violence in SC are shown in the chart below:

Charge

Classification

Jail Time

Which Court?

Domestic Violence 1st

Felony

0-10 years

General Sessions

Domestic Violence 2nd

Misdemeanor

0-3 years

General Sessions

Domestic Violence 3rd

Misdemeanor

0-90 days

Magistrate, Municipal Court, or General Sessions Court (depending on the Solicitor’s choice)

DVHAN

Felony

0-20 years

General Sessions

Common Questions About Domestic Violence Laws in SC

Can the alleged victim drop my DV case?

Possibly. But the alleged victim should never be forced or threatened into dropping a DV charge. If the alleged victim decides on his/her own free will to drop the DV charge, he/she should contact the police officer in charge of the DV case, a victim’s advocate, or the prosecutor, or they should hire a private attorney as soon as possible.

Often, a prosecuting attorney will pursue charges regardless of the alleged victim’s wishes, and, sometimes, an alleged victim will even be threatened with criminal charges by frustrated prosecutors who want them to testify. If you are an alleged victim in a domestic violence case who does not want to testify or who is being threatened by police or prosecutors, you have the option of hiring an independent criminal defense attorney who can advise you.

Should I just pay the fine?

“Just paying the fine” means:

  • Pleading guilty - this means it goes on your criminal record
  • Paying fines, going to jail, and/or completing domestic violence counseling,
  • Losing your right to own a firearm or concealed weapon permit (CWP),
  • Losing your right to purchase a hunting license, and
  • Having a public record as a domestic abuser that you may or may not be able to expunge after five years. An attorney can advise you on your possible eligibility.

Get a domestic violence defense attorney immediately and fight the charges – you may have defenses you are unaware of and your attorney may be able to advise you of how to handle your case, trial and the aftermath of your arrest.

What if children are involved?

If children were present during the alleged DV, law enforcement can contact the Department of Social Services (DSS) to investigate without telling you they are doing it. Law Enforcement may or may not advise you that they are contacting DSS. DSS could open a case against you if DSS agents conclude that you put the children in danger by exposing them to domestic violence.

If children were present, it can also result in enhancement of the charges to a higher degree of domestic violence.

Does physical injury have to occur to be convicted?

No. If the alleged victim reasonably believed the accused was going to cause the victim immediate physical harm, you could still be convicted of DV.

What if law enforcement didn’t read me my rights?

Miranda comes into play when the accused makes statements. The purpose of the Miranda warning is to make sure you know your constitutional rights during an arrest, such as the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent. If you’re in police custody and a law enforcement officer questions you without first reading your Miranda rights, any statement you make, including a confession, could be thrown out in court.

Just because the police do not read you your Miranda rights does not mean your case will be dismissed.

If the officer doesn’t show up in court, will the case be dismissed?

It’s possible, but not likely. In some cases, DV cases are assigned to a prosecutor who will subpoena the officer for their testimony even if they are no longer with the police department. Other officers who were present may also testify for your case.

There were no physical signs of injury. Why was I arrested?

South Carolina law doesn’t require signs of physical injury to proceed with DV charges. The law only requires there to be a threat of physical harm.

Does the alleged victim have to testify for me to be convicted?

In most cases, the prosecution will rely heavily on the alleged victim’s testimony to help get a conviction. Without sufficient evidence, DV charges may be dropped.

An exception would be if a law enforcement officer or some other witness (such as a neighbor, a stranger, etc.) personally witnessed the domestic violence and can be subpoenaed to testify at your trial.

What is a no-contact order?

As a prosecutor in Dorchester County, I would often hear the judge explain this as “not even breathing the same air as the victim.” Under a no-contact order, the accused may not communicate with the victim directly or indirectly.

The accused cannot communicate with the alleged victim electronically, meaning texts, phone calls, emails, or Facebook messages. The accused also cannot ask a third party to deliver a message to the victim. And, if the accused sees the victim in a public place, the accused is required to leave.

If there is a reason to contact the alleged victim regarding your case, you must leave this to your attorney and the prosecutor.

How will I know if a no-contact order has been issued?

This is a standard provision and condition of bond in domestic violence cases in SC. If you see “no contact with the victim” on your bond paperwork, do not, by any means or for any reason, contact the victim.

Click here to view the full PDF for No Contact Order

Can I get rid of a no contact order?

A no contact order should be taken very seriously and remains in effect until a judge signs a written order allowing contact. The victim can help get the order modified by submitting a written request after the DV arrest to the arresting officer, prosecutor, or victim’s advocate, but the defendant’s attorney will most likely need to file a motion and schedule a hearing to explain the circumstances that would justify a modification.

My spouse and I are back together. Do I still need to abide by the no-contact order?

Absolutely. If you break the court order, regardless of whether you’ve reconciled with your partner, you can face additional jail time for contempt of court. Your no contact order must be modified by the Judge/Court before you and the alleged victim can resume contact.

What happens if I contact the victim after a no-contact order has been issued?

You could face a contempt of court charge for disobeying a court order, revocation of your bond, or additional criminal charges.

Remember, even if the victim consents to contact, it’s up to a judge to change a no-contact order. Until a judge modifies the Order in writing, the defendant should have no contact with the victim.

What happens if the victim contacts me after a no-contact order has been issued?

If the victim contacts you, you should not respond. Do not answer calls, texts, emails, or any other form of communication. Instead, let your attorney know right away. Regardless of whether the victim contacted you first, any response is still a violation of your no-contact order.

Questions About Domestic Violence Laws in SC?

If you have been charged with domestic violence, get an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side immediately who can advise you on your options on your case.

Call Attorney Susan E. Williams now at 843-607-9800 or email for a free consultation using this contact form.

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