(Columbia) April 22, 2005 - A new bill which took effect in January 2004 makes criminal domestic violence of a "high and aggravated nature" a felony. That means the attack must involve a deadly weapon, result in serious bodily harm, or cause a person to fear serious bodily harm or death.
The felony offense carries a maximum ten year sentence, which means the offender could serve anywhere from one day up to ten years. According to information WIS obtained from the South Carolina Supreme court, 70 people have been charged under the new law in Richland County. Thirty have been sentenced under it. No one got the maximum of ten years.
Sixteen people are serving two years or less for felony criminal domestic violence. Twenty-one are serving more than two years. The longest sentence in that group is eight years, and just one inmate is serving that length.
It's also important to note the judge could suspend part or all of that sentence if the perpetrator completes a batterer intervention program. News 10 spoke with Nancy Barton of Sistercare who works with a lot of domestic violence victims. She says offenders often plead down and are rarely charged with felony criminal domestic violence.
Every case of CDV of a high and aggravated nature that was provided to us was resolved with a guilty plea. And some defendants in the system may not have been sentenced yet.
State Attorney General Henry McMaster responds to being asked how often CDV is prosecuted as a felony, saying, "Not enough. Because a lot of times the first offense is the first time police are involved in a CDV case. May be a first offense, but it ought to be prosecuted under criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature because that's what it is."
Nancy Barton of Sistercare says the bill wasn't designed for reduced sentences and lesser plea agreements, "I think to give our state the message this is a serious crime for which perpetrators will be held accountable."
McMaster is focusing seriously on the problem, "It is the number one crime problem in our state because it destroys lives of women, also men and children. And when we recognize that as the number one crime problem in South Carolina and treat it like that, then we'll make some real progress."
Now some lawmakers are working on a bill that would make criminal domestic violence third offense a felony.