Domestic violence cases amid COVID-19

By James Morton
Attorney at Law

Marriage and cohabiting can be challenging in the best of times.  Home-schooling, joblessness or working from home and other COVID-19 restrictions significantly increase anxiety and stress.  In times like these, the risk of a physical altercation is escalated.

S.C. Code of Laws Section 16-25-20 states:

(A) It is unlawful to:

(1) Cause physical harm or injury to a person’s own household member; or

(2) Offer or attempt to cause physical harm or injury to a person’s own household member with apparent present ability under circumstances reasonably creating fear of imminent peril.

If police respond to a complaint, and if they observe any “manifestation” of an injury (marks, scrapes, bruising or more serious wounds) to a household member (including children), they are required by law to make an arrest. Also, remember that police record everything with body-cams.  If they respond to a complaint at your home, be respectful, stay calm and remember you have the right to remain silent.  You should always ask to speak to an attorney before trying to give your side of the story.  

Bond in domestic abuse cases

When an arrest is made, a magistrate judge is required to set bond within 24 hours.  However, per order of the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, dated March 16, 2020, “any person charged with a non-capital crime shall be ordered released pending trial on his own recognizance without surety, unless an unreasonable danger to the community will result or the accused is an extreme flight risk”.  In short, a monetary bond would not be required unless one of those conditions is present. 

“No contact” provisions in domestic abuse cases

Even if a monetary bond is not required, judges often set other parameters to apply upon release.  Typically, the defendant is ordered to have no contact with the alleged victim, preventing a defendant from returning home.   This can be terribly frustrating, as the parties are not allowed to contact each other in any way, including phone calls, texts or social media.  This obviously causes chaos, disruption and hardship in peoples’ lives and family.

“I changed my mind”

No-contact orders are often contrary to what the alleged victim desires.  Frequently, the victim wishes to withdraw the complaint (arrest warrant) or to reverse these bond conditions after tempers have cooled.  Rarely are charges dismissed by prosecutors, even at the request of the victim, and reversing a no- contact order is not easy.  Before a no-contact order can be reversed, police, prosecutors and Judges must be persuaded that further violence will not likely result.  Months of requests, motions and deliberations are sometimes necessary for judges to consider such a change, and they are usually reluctant to reverse the imposed no-contact provisions.

Hopefully you and your family will traverse these difficult times without the need of an attorney, but if you are if you are charged with a domestic violence offense, it is important to have competent, experienced legal representation.

The experienced criminal law attorneys at Morton & Gettys stand ready to help. Please contact us as soon as possible if you find yourself needing assistance.

James Morton is a founding partner of Morton & Gettys Law Firm in Rock Hill, SC. He has more than three decades’ experience practicing criminal law in South Carolina. He can be reached at (803) 366-3388 or james.morton@mortongettys.com.

Information or interaction on this page should not be construed as establishing a client-attorney relationship or as legal advice. For advice about your specific situation, please consult one of our attorneys.