Solicitor's Office offers class on new domestic violence laws
By GEORGE SALSBERRY
The Press and Standard
The Press and Standard
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WALTERBORO -- Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone’s bid to educate Colleton County law enforcement officers and victim advocates about changes in the state’s domestic violence law brought together some of the leading experts in combating the crime at USC Salkehatchie-East Campus Monday.
Those who have to enforce the new law and those who have the task of assisting domestic violence victims filled the
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1Joining Stone and 14th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Brian Hollen at the morning-long seminar were Laura Hudson, executive director of the South Carolina Crime Victims’ Council; Mary Ann Stroup, director of Victim’s Services for the Eighth Circuit Solicitor’s Office; Sara Barber, executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault; Larry Barker, director of the State Office of Victims’ Assistance and Office of Executive Policy and Programs; and Suryai Capps, executive director of Hope Haven of the Lowcountry.
Stone, who was part of the statewide task force that reviewed the existing state law and suggested changes, said part of the task force’s recommendation was “a big push in education, to make sure that not only everyone in law enforcement and victim services, but the whole community, gets a better idea of what’s out there, what services are available to crime victims and new changes in the law.”
The work of the task force and the legislative initiative resulted in a vastly different domestic violence law for South Carolina. Stone said very little of what was in the old domestic violence law survived the update. “It is all turned around now,” Stone said. “It is much better.”
Among the changes contained in the new Domestic Violence Reform Act, signed by Gov. Nikki Haley on May 4, are:
· Enhanced penalties for repeat offenders;
· Enhanced penalties toward those who commit domestic violence in front of children;
· Bolstered penalties based on the severity of abuse;
· Recognized the nature of domestic violence and gives prosecutors more tools to fight it;
· Recognized that domestic violence is repeated, escalating and learned behavior and gives prosecutors the ability to punish offenders accordingly;
· Increases the penalties for the most severe crimes from 10 years to 20 years;
· Increases the penalties for the lower offenses from 30 to 90 days;
· Allows solicitors to prosecute even the lowest-level domestic violence offenders in General Sessions Court.
That last change listed will give other circuit court solicitors the opportunity to follow the lead of the 14th Circuit.
A special piece of legislation passed by the South Carolina General Assembly several years ago gave the 14th Circuit the ability to move the lower level domestic violence cases to General Sessions.
As the task force was discussing their work, Stone said, members of the General Assembly said they wanted to see it done statewide.
They wanted it available statewide, Stone said, “because it sends a strong message to the offender.”
“I believe our way is the most effective,” he said. “It sends the message.”
Rather than making a court appearance in magistrate court, offenders are appearing in General Sessions. “They are sitting in a room with people who don’t have a parking ticket. I think that is a big plus,” Stone said.
Even though the 14th Circuit has been using the General Sessions atmosphere to send that message, Stone pointed out that if the suspect of a lower-level domestic violence decided to take the case to trial, the trial was held in magistrate court because a conviction only carried a 30-day sentence.
Now that the law calls for a maximum 90-day sentence, Stone explained, it is a General Sessions’ level offense.
Stone said he decided to start the 14th Circuit Court training on the new domestic violence law in Colleton County and was pleased with the level of attendance and the results.
His next step will be to offer the same training program for law enforcement officers and victim advocates in each of the four other counties in the circuit court district.