In July of this year, in Doe v. State, the S.C. Supreme Court struck down a portion of South Carolina’s domestic violence (CDV) laws as facially unconstitutional because they violated the Equal Protection Clause.
The legislature amended the definition of “household member” in South Carolina’s domestic violence laws in 1994 to exclude same-sex couples. The Court’s original ruling in July “fixed” the Equal Amendment violation by…. continuing to exclude same-sex couples at the expense of also excluding opposite-sex couples who live together or previously lived together.
The Court then issued an Order staying the effect of their ruling when both sides filed motions to reconsider. The new opinion reaches the more logical, non-discriminatory conclusion that the definition of “household member” is not facially invalid, but it is unconstitutional as applied to same-sex couples.
What Does it Mean for CDV Defendants?
If you are charged with criminal domestic violence (CDV) in South Carolina, this opinion has no effect on your case.
Under the July opinion, if you were charged with CDV against a same-sex partner or former partner, your case could have been dismissed because the law no longer applied to you.
You still could have been charged with the same assault and battery crimes that apply to everyone, but there would be no basis for a CDV charge which 1) has more severe penalties for the defendant and 2) has more protections for the alleged victim.
What Does it Mean for Domestic Violence Victims?
Many victims of domestic violence seek help from the family court in the form of a protective order. The definition of household member is the same for CDV charges in criminal courts and for the issuance of protective orders in the family courts.
The statutes as written specifically and intentionally excluded same-sex couples from obtaining protective orders in the family court – the denial of a protective order to an alleged victim in a same-sex relationship was the basis of the declaratory judgment lawsuit that led to the Doe v. State opinions.
Under the clear language of SC’s domestic violence statutes and under the Supreme Court’s July opinion, if you are in a same-sex relationship, you could not obtain a protective order from the family court. The new Doe v. State opinion declares the definition of household members unconstitutional as applied to same-sex couples, which allows any person to seek a protective order regardless of their sexual orientation.
Charged with CDV? Or Do You Need a Protective Order in Myrtle Beach?
In my law practice, I represent clients who are charged with criminal domestic violence and I represent clients who are victims of abuse to obtain protective orders in the family court with the same zeal and concern for their well-being.
If you are charged with CDV in Myrtle Beach or Conway, SC, or if you are a victim of domestic violence who needs help, call me at (843) 492-5449 or fill out our online contact form to find out how I can help.