Felony Domestic Violence
South Carolina's main most serious domestic violence charge is entitled Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature (DVHAN). Pursuant to S.C. Code § 16-25-65, an individual who commits a violation of the DVHAN laws when:
- The offense is committed under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life and great bodily injury to the victim results.
- The offense is committed, with or without an accompanying battery (physical contact), and under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, and would reasonably cause a person to fear imminent great bodily injury or death.
- When the accusation also involves violating a protection order, and the offense committed would otherwise be a DV 1st Degree
The way the law is written at first seems that it would only apply to drastic situations. However law enforcement is making DVHAN arrests for a variety of situations that aren't actually that drastic. Nevertheless, this is considered a violent, serious felony in South Carolina, and carries up to 20 years in prison.
DVHAN is prosecuted in the Court of General Sessions by the Solicitor's office. Anyone convicted, who either pleads guilty or is found guilty, will be a felon and will risk a substantial prison sentence.
Causing very serious injury during a domestic violence assault can support a DVHAN charge. However the law is written in such a way that no physical contact is required. For this reason we see charges brought under a variety of circumstances. Here are some of the more common examples:
- Allegations of chocking, or leaving bruises or scratches on the throat of the alleged victim
- Possession of a knife or gun during an argument
- Statements such as "I am going to kill you" or "You
- Injuries resulting in requiring emergency room treatment or hospitalization
- Use of a deadly weapon
Under South Carolina Law almost anything can be a deadly weapon. Courts have held that shovels, BB guns, gasoline, or automobiles are all deadly weapons. Law Enforcement may be quick to charge an individual with felony level domestic violence even in cases with no actual evidence of a deadly weapon. Cases in which there are allegations of choking, or the alleged victim has any marks on their throat, frequently result in DVHAN charges. Lacerations, substantial bruising, fractures or any substantive medical treatment may also support a DVHAN charge. All other requirements of a domestic violence charge remain in place, including the requirement that the alleged victim be a household member.
In some instances defendants charged with DVHAN are also charged with other serious criminal offenses. These may include spousal sexual battery,
kidnapping, rape or
criminal sexual conduct. Many times the police will overcharge a defendant with this serious offense so that the defense will be pressured to "plead down" to a lesser DV offense.
In addition to DVHAN, DV 3rd degree is also a felony under South Carolina law. This site's Criminal Domestic Violence page has more information about this offense. It does carry up to ten years in prison.
Most DVHAN charges are brought as a result of a Magistrate signing an arrest warrant. The defendant might be arrested before the warrant is issued, or afterwards. Either way the next step following arrest is bond court. Those facing a felony domestic violence charge frequently face a higher bond, and other restrictions such as a no-contact order or electronic monitoring.
Those who are charged with felony are entitled to a preliminary hearing if requested within ten days of their bond court appearance. The first mandatory court date in General Sessions is almost always "roll call", which is just a check-in. After checking-in the defendant is allowed to leave. Although nothing happens, failing to appear can result in a bench warrant (and a lengthy incarceration).
Domestic Violence Preliminary Hearings
A preliminary hearing is a hearing to determine if probable cause exists to support an arrest warrant. Most defendants don't request or attend these. We always request them for our clients though (although we must be hired within 10 days of bond court).
Although some people think that the preliminary hearing is a rubber-stamp, these can be valuable hearings to inquire about the investigation or process that the police went through prior to making the arrest. This type of information can be invaluable later on when negotiating with a prosecutor or preparing a case for trial.
Although the judge at a preliminary hearing can rule that a charge should be dismissed, or the severity level reduced (for example, DVHAN to a DV 1st degree), this isn't actually binding on the prosecution. Instead the ruling from a preliminary hearing is more of a recommendation to the prosecutor. If a prosecutor disagrees they are still allowed to prosecute the case.
Options for Resolving a Felony Domestic Violence Charge
After a complete review of the evidence that the State intends on using against you or your loved one in a trial, and after negotiation with the Solicitor's office, it may be possible to have charges resolved in one of the following ways:
- Entrance into the pre-trial intervention program (PTI). This will entail community service, a written report, counseling and drug screenings. Successful completion will result in charges being dismissed and the arrest record expunged;
- A fully contested jury trial where all allegations and aspects of the charge may be contested;
- A negotiated plea arrangement down to misdemeanor DV or another lesser charge. This may mean a sentence of probation or a fine instead of prison time.
Most county solicitor's offices have "no drop" policies which will preclude them from dismissing a felony case even in cases where the alleged victim has recanted their story or requests the charges be dropped.
Call for a Confidential Consultation
If you or a loved one has been charged with a South Carolina felony or any other domestic violence charge please call our office for a no-cost and confidential consultation with James Snell. During your consultation you will receive a full review of your charges and all available legal defenses and an opportunity to ask any questions you may have. Mr. Snell will provide you with an honest assessment of your case and any potential legal strategies that are available for you. He also can assist you in determining if your case is a felony or misdemeanor level. You can call our office at (888) 302-5840.
James Snell is a South Carolina criminal defense attorney representing those charged with felony criminal domestic violence. The following information is designed to provide prospective clients and there family with a general introduction to South Carolina DVHAN law and procedure. If you are interested in scheduling a consultation about your case please call (888) 302-5840.