COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina's top prosecutor on Tuesday implored lawmakers returning to Columbia to implement a range of penalties for the state's criminal domestic violence offenses, saying it's time for the state to reduce its dismal death statistics.
"Our laws reflect our values," Attorney General Alan Wilson told reporters at the Statehouse, as both the House and Senate prepared to gavel in their annual sessions. "We cannot live in a society where you can beat your dog and get five years, and beat your wife and get 30 days."
Wilson, flanked by dozens of lawmakers and members of law enforcement, spoke in support of a bill sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who chaired a joint House-Senate study panel on the issue. The measure, which was passed by a subcommittee later Tuesday, would put into place a tiered structure, giving prosecutors more options for domestic violence offenders.
Instead of the two options currently available to prosecutors — a misdemeanor carrying a possible 30-day sentence, or a felony punishable up to 10 years — prosecutors would have a range of possible crimes with which to charge suspects. Options would range from a misdemeanor with a possible 90-day sentence to a felony punishable up to 20 years in prison.
Martin's bill would also prevent abusers from possessing a gun while under protective court orders, and those convicted of domestic violence could not have a gun for a decade after they finish their sentence. The ban is already federal law, which would require federal prosecution. State and local law enforcement can't enforce it without a corresponding state measure.
Wilson has previously said that he is willing to support the idea but not necessarily as it's currently written in the bill. Later Tuesday, Wilson said that he understands Martin's position but doesn't want any provision, the gun portion included, to bog down the legislation's chances of passage.
"I won't know what my position is going to be until we get further into the debate," Wilson said during an interview with The Associated Press. "I am certainly open to the gun provision, but I desperately need for them to pass the tiered system and the penalties for front-line cops and prosecutors. ... I don't want other provisions of the bill to prevent that from occurring."
Wilson's office has said more than 36,000 people annually report a domestic violence incident to law enforcement agencies around South Carolina. South Carolina ranked second in the nation for the number of women killed by men in 2013 after ranking first the year before, according to the Violence Policy Center. It is almost always in the top five.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
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