SC Lawyer, Nov. 2004, #6. The landscape of domestic violence in South Carolina.

AuthorBy Nicole Howland

South Carolina Lawyer


SC Lawyer, Nov. 2004, #6.

The landscape of domestic violence in South Carolina

South Carolina LawyerNovember 2004The landscape of domestic violence in South CarolinaBy Nicole HowlandDomestic violence is a grave problem in our country.

The federal government estimates that four million women are physically abused by their husbands or live-in partners each year. As the criminal justice system has become more involved in an area that was traditionally viewed as a "family matter," ethical quandaries have begun to become increasingly obvious to family practitioners forced to confront the criminal issues that now can be significant in a divorce proceeding.

See Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, U.S. Department of Justice, March, 1998.

Family law practitioners recognize that domestic violence has always been a part of the legal landscape in that specialty field. Traditionally, domestic violence has primarily been seen as a family court matter normally encountered in cases where a spouse was seeking a divorce on the grounds of physical cruelty. Over the years, little attention has been paid to the special problems spousal abuse can generate for the family law lawyer.

Absent spousal homicide, our criminal courts too, traditionally have failed to treat domestic violence incidents as serious. Lower levels of violence have often been ignored by the criminal justice system. Historically, when law enforcement responded, the parties were separated for a "cooling off" period rather than taking more aggressive action. Lacking aid from law enforcement personnel and prosecutors, victims of violence often were left to navigate the criminal justice system alone and ignorant of their options. Fortunately for battered victims, the criminal justice system began to improve its response in the mid-90s.

At that time, our state's legal scene was drastically altered through the passage of domestic violence legislation creating mandatory arrest. See S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-70 (2003). Under this new statutory scheme, officers were mandated to make an arrest if a victim had physical manifestation of injury and probable cause to believe that one household member inflicted the injury upon another household member.

South Carolina's decision to overhaul the manner in which it addressed domestic violence was part of a national trend. Throughout the country, domestic violence was becoming recognized as a serious, escalating and repetitive crime that needed to be addressed in a more pro-active manner, to include specialized courts, investigators and prosecutors. This new attention has led to the need for deeper, more sophisticated thinking about lawyers' duties in dealing...

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