When I began practicing criminal law in the 14th Judicial Circuit, it seemed to be a “given” that any Criminal Domestic Violence First Offense matters that I took on would be prosecuted in Magistrate or Municipal Court, and usually by an arresting officer and/or a hardworking and dedicated Victim’s Advocate officer (as opposed to a law school trained and licensed government attorney). First offense criminal domestic violence matters were and still are taken seriously by law enforcement and Solicitors (in South Carolina we have Circuit Solicitors and Assistant Solicitors, which are essentially different names for the District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney positions those from other states may be more familiar with); however, a first offense is a misdemeanor, as opposed to a felony offense. One day I came across a bond form setting forth that an individual was supposed to appear for an Initial Appearance in General Sessions Court (as opposed to a trial date (by default “bench trial”) in Magistrate or Municipal Court) for a Criminal Domestic Violence First Offense misdemeanor offense. About ten (10) minutes later I had become familiar with S.C. Code Ann. Section 22-3-546, titled “Establishment of program for prosecution of first offense misdemeanor criminal domestic violence offenses.”
S.C. Code Ann. Section 22-3-546 sets forth (as of this posting – December 2011), “A circuit solicitor, in a circuit with five or more counties, may establish a program under his discretion and control to prosecute first offense misdemeanor criminal domestic violence offenses, as defined in Section 16-25-20, in general sessions court. Whether to establish a program, and which cases may be prosecuted in general sessions court, are within the sole discretion of the solicitor. A solicitor shall report the results of the program to the Prosecution Coordination Commission.”
When I mention judicial circuits to non-lawyers, I often get blank stares. South Carolina’s counties are divided into groups called circuits for purposes of many legal proceedings. The Fourteenth Judicial Circuit is composed of five (5) counties: Beaufort County, Jasper County, Colleton County, Allendale County, and Hampton County. To my knowledge, the Fourteenth Circuit is the only circuit in South Carolina with five (5) counties, so this law seems to have a mostly local effect.
How does this work in practice? In my experience thus far with prosecutions conducted pursuant to this statute, an individual charged with a violation of S.C. Code Ann. Section 16-25-20 (the first offense CDV or criminal domestic violence subpart) is given an Initial Appearance date instead of a bench trial date. A person charged with this offense will have his or her offense brought before a Grand Jury for indictment, just as if this individual were charged with rape, drug distribution, or other such offenses yielding far greater potential incarceration (jail or prison) times.
A person prosecuted pursuant to this program will be physically seated next to individuals potentially charged with extremely serious offenses. Also, should a trial occur, there is definitely going to be a solicitor on the other “side” (at the other “table”). Though I truly have a lot of respect for the Victim Advocate Officers in our circuit that prosecute these matters, as they have gained a lot of experience in their roles and can be fierce opponents, an Assistant Solicitor is normally equipped with this experience plus a legal background and generally superior knowledge of the rules of evidence and case law.
Though funding for solicitors in the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit to handle the increased caseload due to implementation of Section 22-3-546 is always an issue, it is almost certainly going to be beneficial, if not necessary, for one charged with Criminal Domestic Violence – First Offense in Beaufort County, Jasper County, Colleton County, Hampton County, or Allendale County to have legal counsel.
If you would like to speak with an attorney from our firm concerning your South Carolina Criminal Domestic Violence – First Offense charge, please call us at (843) 474-0614 or (800) 996-0683.
Lee Law Firm, LLC is a South Carolina based law firm that advocates for and counsels clients throughout South Carolina and its Low Country, primarily in Beaufort and Jasper counties (including Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Daufuskie Island, Ridgeland, Callawassie Island, Okatie, Hardeeville, and Beaufort).