April 27, 2008

Domestic violence

Current state law represents an egregious affront to women

South Carolina has a serious flaw in its criminal domestic violence law. Hopefully, the General Assembly is on the path to fixing it.

Currently in the Palmetto State, a criminal domestic violence conviction may be treated as a first offense at sentencing even if the convicted party has been found guilty of prior offenses outside the state. House Speaker Pro Tem Doug Smith, R-Spartanburg, introduced a bill in February to change that and put those previous convictions into play. Last Tuesday, the bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee and headed for the House floor.

But it didn't make it out of committee before a tweak was made to the bill's language - a seemingly minor change but one that could have significantly altered the bill's impact.

The new language opened the door for possible judicial hair-splitting over whether these prior acts may be considered at sentencing. It was an uncalled-for obstacle, particularly in this state. Keep in mind that South Carolina ranks seventh nationally in the rate of women killed by men. And keep in mind that criminal domestic violence is often habitual behavior.

Taking into account past out-of-state convictions is significant, as the penalties for repeat offenders are higher. An abuser doesn't deserve a clean slate here simply because his previous convictions occurred in another state. And he shouldn't be able to argue that a past conviction is similar but perhaps slightly lacks "the same elements" of the latest crime.

Our current CDV law represents an egregious miscarriage of justice for women, and this legislation is vital in a state with such a horrendous domestic violence track record. The Senate should follow the House's lead and take quick action to pass the bill.

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