Domestic violence laws in South Carolina keep getting tougher and tougher. 

Politicians know that it’s a hot topic that gets voters fired up.  The phrase “tough on crime” wins votes, while “fair to the accused” does not.

What this means is that, over time, South Carolina domestic violence laws have made it easier to get arrested and charged with domestic violence, easier to get convicted of domestic violence, and the potential penalties have become harsher. 

In this article, we’ll cover the fines, penalties and jail time associated with each degree of domestic violence charges in South Carolina. 

In addition, we’ll answer some of the more commonly asked questions about domestic violence laws in SC, including:

  • What is the definition of domestic violence;
  • What are the fines, penalties and jail time for domestic violence charges, including domestic violence 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree, and DVHAN.
  • Whether domestic violence is a felony or a misdemeanor;
  • Whether domestic violence charges can be “dropped” by the alleged victim; and
  • Whether a domestic violence conviction can be expunged in SC.

Let’s get started.

1. What is Domestic Violence in SC?

Domestic violence is a crime that is sometimes charged in General Sessions Court and sometimes charged in the magistrate or municipal courts. 

Domestic Violence, 3rd degree, is usually charged in the magistrate (county) or municipal (city) court, while more serious domestic violence charges go to General Sessions Court. Although all domestic violence charges have the same basic elements, the offense can be “upgraded” from Domestic Violence, 3rd degree, to a more serious charge if aggravating factors are present. Domestic Violence, 3rd degree, is handled in General Sessions court as well.

2. What is the Definition of Domestic Violence in SC?

Domestic violence laws in South Carolina make it unlawful to 1) harm a household member, or 2) threaten or attempt to harm a household member. For Domestic Violence, 3rd degree, the least serious domestic violence offense, that’s all it takes to be arrested and convicted of the offense. 

A household member could mean:

  • A spouse;
  • A former spouse;
  • A person with whom you’ve had a child;
  • A person with whom you are “cohabiting” (living together in a romantic relationship) or with whom you have formerly cohabited. 

3. What is the Worst Kind of Domestic Violence Charge in SC? 

The most serious domestic violence charge in South Carolina is Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated nature, better known as “DVHAN.” 

You can be convicted of DVHAN if the state proves that you:

1) harmed a household member, or 2) threatened or attempted to harm a household member and:

  1. You showed an “extreme indifference to the value of human life” and “great bodily injury” resulted; 
  2. You showed an “extreme indifference to the value of human life” and a reasonable person would have feared great bodily injury or death; or
  3. The offense would have been domestic violence first degree, but you were violating a restraining order at the time of the offense. 

4. Is Domestic Violence a Felony or a Misdemeanor in South Carolina? 

Domestic violence laws in South Carolina make the more serious offenses felonies, while the less serious offenses are considered misdemeanors. 

DVHAN and Domestic Violence, 1st Degree, are Felonies

DVHAN, discussed above, is a felony. 

Domestic Violence, 1st degree, is also a felony under South Carolina law. You can be convicted of Domestic Violence, 1st degree, in South Carolina if the state proves that you: 1) harmed a household member, or 2) threatened or attempted to harm a household member and:

  1. Great bodily injury resulted or could have resulted;
  2. The offense would have been Domestic Violence, 2nd degree, but you were violating a protective order;
  3. You have two or more domestic violence convictions in the last ten (10) years;
  4. You used a firearm while committing the offense; or
  5. The offense would have been Domestic Violence, 2nd degree, but any of the following happened during the commission of the offense:
    1. It happened in front of a child;
    2. The alleged victim was pregnant;
    3. It happened while you were also committing a robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or theft;
    4. You choked the alleged victim; or
    5. You prevented the alleged victim from calling for help. 

Domestic Violence 2nd and 3rd Degree are Misdemeanors

Domestic Violence 2nd and 3rd degree are misdemeanors under South Carolina law. 

You can be convicted of Domestic Violence 2nd degree, in South Carolina if the state proves that you: 1) harmed a household member, or 2) threatened or attempted to harm a household member and:

  1. Moderate bodily injury resulted or could have resulted;
  2. The offense would have been Domestic Violence, 3rd degree, but you were violating a protective order;
  3. You have one prior domestic violence conviction in the last ten (10) years;
  4. You used a firearm while committing the offense; or
  5. The offense would have been Domestic Violence, 3rd degree, but any of the following happened during the commission of the offense:
    1. It happened in front of a child;
    2. The alleged victim was pregnant;
    3. It happened while you were also committing a robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or theft;
    4. You choked the alleged victim; or
    5. You prevented the alleged victim from calling for help.

Domestic Violence, 3rd degree, is the least serious DV offense in South Carolina and requires only that the state prove that you 1) harmed a household member, or 2) threatened or attempted to harm a household member.

5. What Are the Fines, Penalties and Jail Time for DVHAN, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Degree Domestic Violence Charges in South Carolina?

 

DVHAN

DVHAN, is a felony that carries up to twenty (20) years in prison. It is prosecuted in General Sessions Court.

Domestic Violence, 1st Degree

Domestic Violence, 1st degree, is also a felony under South Carolina law, and it is punishable by up to ten (10) years in prison. It is also prosecuted in General Sessions Court.

Domestic Violence, 2nd Degree

Domestic Violence, 2nd degree, is a misdemeanor offense prosecuted in General Sessions Court, and it carries up to three (3) years in prison if convicted. 

Domestic Violence 3rd Degree

Domestic Violence, 3rd degree, is also a misdemeanor offense. It carries a maximum sentence of up to ninety (90) days in jail. It can be prosecuted in Magistrate, Municipal, or General Sessions Court.

A conviction for Domestic Violence can impact your right to own a firearm.

On top of the jail sentences above, you may be ordered to complete a domestic violence intervention program and/or pay Court ordered restitution.

Table of Penalties for Domestic Violence Charges in South Carolina

ChargeClassificationJail TimeWhich Court?
Domestic Violence 1stFelony0-10 yearsGeneral Sessions
Domestic Violence 2ndMisdemeanor0-3 yearsGeneral Sessions
Domestic Violence 3rdMisdemeanor0-90 daysMagistrate, Municipal Court, or General Sessions Court (depending on the Solicitor’s choice)
DVHANFelony0-20 yearsGeneral Sessions

 

6. Can Domestic Violence Charges be Dropped? 

Domestic violence charges can be dropped. The prosecutor can and should dismiss the charges if there is insufficient evidence or if it is in the interest of justice for the case to be dismissed. But will they? 

Because of the political and charged nature of domestic violence cases, some prosecutor’s offices will refuse to dismiss domestic violence charges, leaving it to a judge or to a jury (and thereby saving themselves the possibility of bad media coverage that could affect their reelection). 

Will a prosecutor dismiss domestic violence charges if the alleged victim asks them to dismiss? 

Maybe… 

Some prosecutors will “rake the victim over the coals,” because they are tired of victims asking them to dismiss cases. Some prosecutors have even threatened alleged victims with jail when they refused to go forward or testify. 

What can you do? If you are an alleged victim in a domestic violence case who does not want to go forward with the prosecution, you should seek independent counsel who can advise you as to what you should do before you speak with the prosecutor or their agents.  

7. Is Domestic Violence in Front of a Child a Felony? 

When domestic violence happens in front of a child, that is an aggravating factor that can “bump the charges up” to the next level – it could be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. 

If a case would have been Domestic Violence, 3rd degree, but it happened in front of a child, it is now charged as a Domestic Violence, 2nd degree – still a misdemeanor but punishable by up to three (3) years. 

If a case would have been Domestic Violence, 2nd degree, but it happened in front of a child, it is now charged as a Domestic Violence, 1st degree – it is now a felony punishable by up to ten (10) years. 

8. Does Domestic Violence Have to be Physical?

Although some people assume that it’s not domestic violence unless you hit, push, or get physical with someone, that’s not what the domestic violence laws in South Carolina say. 

You can be convicted of domestic violence – even the most serious offense of DVHAN – for just threatening to harm a household member if the other elements are proven by the state. 

9. Can Domestic Violence be Expunged in SC? 

If you are charged with domestic violence and the case is later dismissed or you are acquitted at trial, all records of the offense can be expunged from your record. 

If the case was dismissed or you were not convicted, the clerk of court should automatically expunge the charges (but they don’t always – check with your attorney if it is not expunged within a reasonable amount of time). 

If you have been convicted of Domestic Violence, 3rd degree and it was a first offense, you can have the conviction expunged after five (5) years, but it is not automatic. You or your attorney must apply for the expungement and follow through to ensure that the records are destroyed. 

Need help with your domestic violence charge?

Domestic violence convictions are serious and should be taken as such.

Not only will you have a criminal record if convicted, there are other consequences you may face besides potential fines and jail time. 

Relationships with friends and family may become strained, your employment may be in jeopardy, and it may be difficult to find a new job in the future.

We’re ready to discuss your case and start working towards the best possible outcome for you. 

Don’t leave your future to chance. Call 843-761-3840 or use this form to contact us today!

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