I am often contacted by prospective clients who made the mistake of going to Court alone, and without consulting with an attorney, after having been charged with domestic violence. They thought that because either no one was injured, or because their partner did not want to pursue the case that the Court would automatically dismiss the case. Unfortunately for them this is not how CDV cases are handled in South Carolina.
First, South Carolina’s CDV law is broader than most people expect. You can be arrested and convicted for CDV for conduct which otherwise would not be criminal, domestic or violent. The three components of the law are generally described as prohibitions against causing physical harm, attempting to cause harm or conduct which creates fear in someone else. Because of this there is no requirement whatsoever under the law that someone must be hit, pushed, shoved, slapped, punched, kicked, or touched in any way for a violation of the law to occur.
Secondly, there is a “no drop” policy in South Carolina regarding CDV arrests. This means that once you are arrested for domestic violence the police and prosecutor are usually unable to dismiss or drop the case even if no one was harmed, and even if everyone wants to have the case dropped.
When someone charged with CDV goes to Court they are many times unprepared that their opportunity to talk to the Judge is only made available in context of a trial. The rules of evidence apply and a criminal defendant representing themselves will be held to the same standards as an experienced trial attorney. Once the process starts it can be over in a matter of minutes. The Judge’s ruling may leave someone with a permanent criminal record, jail sentence and fine.
Individuals charged with domestic violence are at a higher risk than many others to unknowingly set themselves up for failure in their case out of a lack of familiarity with the criminal justice system. Many times a CDV arrest is the first time someone has contact with the system. Accordingly how they think their case should be and will be handled may very well directly contradict the Court procedure and State law.
Anyone charged with CDV is entitled to important legal rights. These include the right to obtain the documents, statements, photographs and reports the police or prosecution have about your case before trial, the right to make objections to hearsay and other unreliable evidence, and the right to a full jury trial. Additionally by indicating to the prosecution that you are serious about challenging your case may serve as a motivation for them to consider alternatives available that may resolve your case without a trial and result in you having no criminal record whatsoever.