Originally created 09/22/05

Money, legal help key to new effort



COLUMBIA - Attorney General Henry McMaster said Wednesday that the state needs to spend $2.2 million a year to hire criminal domestic violence prosecutors in each of the state's 46 counties and set up centralized courts to handle those cases.

Mr. McMaster testified before a joint House and Senate committee studying ways to improve the state's domestic violence laws.

Domestic violence "continues to be a problem in spite of our best efforts, and we're not going to give up," said Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican leading the committee.

Hiring more prosecutors will help assure victims that batterers will face justice and will help decrease the number of victims refusing to testify against husbands or boyfriends.

"A lot of them don't show up because they don't have confidence in the system" because they've seen case after case dismissed, Mr. McMaster said.

Victims will remain scared until they know they can go to court and justice will be served, Mr. McMaster said.

The committee's hearings are part of a new, stronger domestic violence law the Legislature approved just before the June adjournment.

The law was passed after a legislator's remark on women hurt by boyfriends and spouses returning to their batterers propelled the debate beyond anyone's expectations.

The new law that goes into effect Jan. 1 stiffens penalties and fines and requires judges to receive training on domestic violence.

It also raises the minimum fine for a first conviction of domestic violence to $1,000 from $500, or 30 days in jail.

But that can be suspended if the person completes a counseling program.

Penalties for second convictions increase to 30 days to one year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.

The current penalty is either 30 days in jail or a $500 fine.

The new law also required a joint, Senate-House committee to explore what additional changes need to be made in domestic violence laws.

The panel will continue meeting throughout the fall before the next legislative session begins in January.

The Impact: Hiring more prosecutors will help assure victims that batterers will face justice and will help decrease the number of victims refusing to testify against abusive partners, according to the South Carolina attorney general.