The South Carolina Commission on Prosecution Coordination (SCCPC) is requesting an additional $1.6 million in funding from the state General Assembly next year to help pay for more prosecutors in domestic violence cases. The request is part of a larger $3.1 million increase the commission is seeking.
SCCPC’s funding was nearly eliminated entirely by some senators last year in a dispute over personnel. In the end, legislators decided to take a look at the agency again this year.
The SCCPC was created in 1990 by the legislature. Its official function is to act as a “middleman” between the state’s 16 circuit courts and the Statehouse. The Commission itself is an 11-member board consisting of members of the Legislature and law enforcement, as well as five state solicitors.
The funding would replace a federal grant that expires in July which pays to hire special prosecutors for domestic violence cases. The SCCPC request would be divided evenly among each of the state’s 16 judicial circuits.
Commission chairman Jerry Peace told Greenwood affiliate WLMA the federal money helps address a weakness in the system– many districts would otherwise not be able to hire special prosecutors to handle domestic violence cases in magistrate’s court.
By law, state solicitors can only prosecute in circuit court. But Peace says the vast majority of criminal domestic violence cases end up in magistrate’s court. That means they require special prosecutors to handle the cases.
He said while some of the state’s larger circuits could hire outside counsel, most could not. “It was a hodge-podge,” Peace said, “So once we identified this as a problem and received the funding, we were able to put prosecutors in magistrate’s court.”
Prior to 2005, the victim was usually represented by the police officer who filed the charges. Oftentimes, the person accused of the crime would hire a skilled defense attorney to take on the officer. Peace said that stacked the system against the victim, “These are very, very difficult cases to prosecute. Generally, you have a victim who, the next week… doesn’t want to go forward.”
Peace is the solicitor for the state’s Eighth Circuit, which is comprised of Abbeville, Greenwood, Laurens, and Newberry counties. He said he could not afford to hire prosecutors without the grant.
According to the state Department of Public Safety, the criminal domestic violence rate in South Carolina has declined 22.3 percent since 2005. Peace credits the grant as a big reason why.
The Legislature has to approve the request before it crafts the budget next June.
Anne Eller of Greenwood affiliate WLMA contributed to this report.