South Carolina Domestic Violence Laws

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In South Carolina, the crime known as domestic violence involves someone causing harm or injury to a household member, or threatening or attempting to cause harm or injury to a household member while being apparently able to carry out the threat or attempted harm. The state also makes it a crime to violate a domestic violence protection order or to trespass on the grounds of a domestic violence shelter.

Household members include spouses, former spouses, people who have children together, and people of the opposite sex who live together or have lived together.

(S.C. Code Ann. §§ 16-25-10, 16-25-20.)

For general information on assault crimes in South Carolina, see Assault and Battery in South Carolina and South Carolina Felony Assault and Battery.

Arrests for Domestic Violence

If a police officer has probable cause to believe any crime of domestic violence has occurred, including violation of a protection order, the officer may make an arrest with or without a warrant, even if the officer did not observe the offense.

If the victim is injured, the officer must make an arrest if the officer has probable cause to believe a crime of domestic violence occurred.

Probable cause is merely a reasonable belief that a crime has occurred.

(S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-70.)

Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature

South Carolina law punishes more severely certain acts of domestic violence. “Domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature” occurs when the defendant commits:

  • an assault or battery against a household member with a deadly weapon or that causes serious injury, or
  • an assault (a threat or attempt at injury) with or without the accompanying battery (actual touching that causes injury or harm) that reasonably causes imminent fear of serious injury or death.

(S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-65.)

A deadly weapon is an object that is usually used for the infliction of injury, such as a gun. Certain objects, such as hunting rifles and knives, are deadly weapons only when they are used with the intent to commit a crime. (S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-460.) An item that is not usually used to inflict injury, such as a baseball bat, would probably not qualify as a deadly weapon.

The meaning of ”great bodily injury” is injury that creates a substantial risk of death or causes permanent disfigurement or sustained impairment. (S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-600.) For example, a broken neck or a gunshot wound to the chest would probably be considered great bodily injury.

Trespass on a Domestic Violence Shelter

It is a crime in South Carolina for anyone who has been charged with or convicted of any crime of domestic violence or who is subject to a protection order to come onto the property of a domestic violence shelter where a household member resides. There is an exception if the defendant has legitimate business there.

(S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-125.)

Protection Orders

A protection order (also called a restraining order) is a court order prohibiting one household member from contacting or coming near another household member. Household members may seek protection orders for themselves or on behalf of a minor child. A household member who seeks a protection order (by filing a "Petition for an Order of Protection") is called a petitioner.

The petitioner must have the defendant served (given notice and a copy of the petition). A hearing will then be held in family court, usually within 15 days after the petition was filed. In an emergency, however, the court may schedule a hearing within 24 hours; see “Emergency order,” below.

After the hearing, the court can issue an order:

  • prohibiting the defendant from abusing, threatening, molesting, or contacting the petitioner
  • prohibiting the defendant from coming to the petitioner’s place of residence or work or another location indicated by the court
  • awarding temporary custody and visitation of any minor children
  • ordering the defendant to pay temporary financial support for the petitioner and children
  • granting temporary possession of a shared residence to the petitioner
  • granting temporary possession of personal property
  • prohibiting the sale or destruction of shared property, and
  • awarding costs and attorney’s fees.

An order is good for six months to one year, and it may be extended.

(S.C. Code Ann. §§ 20-4-20, 20-4-30, 20-4-40, 20-4-50, 20-4-60, 20-4-70.)

Emergency order

If the petitioner shows good cause -- that is, an immediate and present danger of bodily injury -- the court may hold an emergency hearing. The court may then issue a protection order prohibiting the defendant from abusing, threatening, or contacting the petitioner, or going to the petitioner’s residence or place of work or another location. Although the petitioner must serve the defendant with notice and a copy of the petition, the hearing can occur within 24 hours once such notice has been given.

(S.C. Code Ann. §§ 20-4-50, 20-4-60.)

Punishment and Treatment

Crimes of domestic violence may be treated as misdemeanors or felonies in South Carolina, depending on the circumstances.

In many cases, the court can order a defendant to enter a batterer’s treatment program in lieu of serving part (or all) of the jail or prison sentence. The court must first determine that treatment is appropriate, after considering the facts of the offense and the victim’s safety. The court can also order a defendant to enter into substance abuse treatment if appropriate. The defendant can be ordered to pay for both types of treatment programs, but no one can be turned away for inability to pay.

(S.C. Code Ann. §§ 16-25-20, 16-25-65.)

Punishment for domestic violence

The first offense of domestic violence assault is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $1,000 to $2,500 or up to 30 days in jail. The court may suspend the sentence, conditional on the defendant completing a batterer’s treatment program.

The second offense of domestic violence is also a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $2,000 to $5,000 and 30 days to one year in jail. There is a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail, but the court may suspend the remainder of the sentence conditional on the defendant completing a batterer’s treatment program.

Third and subsequent offenses are felonies, punishable by one to five years’ imprisonment.

In order to count as a prior offense, the previous crime must have occurred within the past ten years and must (if it took place in another state) qualify as a domestic violence conviction under South Carolina’s laws.

(S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-20.)

Punishment for domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature

Domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature is a felony, punishable by one to ten years’ imprisonment. There is a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail, but the court may suspend the remainder of the sentence conditional on the defendant completing a batterer’s treatment program.

(S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-65.)

Punishment for trespass

Trespass on a domestic violence shelter is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $3,000 and up to three years in jail. If the trespasser had a dangerous weapon, it is a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years’ imprisonment.

(S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-125.)

Punishment for violation of a protection order

Violation of a protection order (whether issued by a South Carolina court or another court) is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. It is also considered contempt of court (disobeying a court’s order), punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,500.

(S.C. Code Ann. §§ 16-25-20, 20-4-60.)

Getting Legal Advice and Representation

If you are charged with a crime that involves domestic violence or served with a petition for a protection order, you should contact a South Carolina criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A domestic violence conviction or protection order can have serious consequences. An attorney will be able to tell you how your case is likely to be treated in court and help you achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

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