The courts will be in session the second Thursday of each month beginning at 8:30 a.m. in Greer and 1:30 p.m. in Simpsonville.
According to the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, South Carolina ranks second in the United States among women murdered by men, a jump of one spot from prior year statistics that put South Carolina at the top of the list.
“I’m excited about this opportunity. South Carolina is second in the nation in domestic violence deaths so we’re clearly not doing something right,” Henry J. Mims, municipal judge for the City of Greer, noted in the statement.
“Our first charge is to make sure defendants have fair treatment. That’s always foremost. But we have to understand that victims have rights too. And it’s more than just a criminal issue. The impacts range from economic loss, the kids, the rest of the families and the community in general. If we can draft good solutions and get away from cookie cutter solutions, we can make a difference.”
The specialty municipal courts will be the first of their kind in the Upstate, according to the release. Three South Carolina counties, including Greenville, and nine cities in the Midlands and Lowcountry have domestic violence courts.
Megan Gresham, an assistant attorney general in the S.C. Attorney General’s office since 2012, will visit both cities monthly to prosecute cases. Gresham travels across South Carolina training court officials, judges, lawyers, police officers and others on CDV issues. She also prosecutes cases involving violence against women, including criminal domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct, harassment, and stalking.
Gresham’s services are part of the S.T.O.P. Violence Against Women program established by the S.C. Attorney General’s office in 1996 with grant monies provided by the federal Violence Against Women Act – the first national legislation to specifically target criminal domestic violence and other abusive behaviors toward women
Richard C. Moore, chief judge for the City of Simpsonville, said Gresham’s participation is integral to the new court’s success.
“The proposal extended by the Attorney General’s office would result in that office essentially taking over the prosecution of domestic violence cases, whether it be from a plea, bench trial or jury trial standpoint,” he stated. “It is our belief that having the resources of the Attorney General’s office will better enable the City to serve its citizens and their needs as they pertain to this issue, by allowing a single prosecutor deal only with those particular issues in our court rather than grouping them with the other myriad of issues handled by our court system and our city prosecutor on a daily basis.”
Both cities will initially participate in a three-month trial to determine the court’s effectiveness, staffing requirements, and demands on police officers.
“This will benefit the entire community,” Kirsten Pressley, court administrator for the City of Greer, stated. “In one session we can bring together the police officer, a specialized prosecutor, the victim advocate, the victim, witnesses, the defendant, the defense attorney, representatives from batterer treatment programs, and representatives from domestic violence shelters who provide counseling for the victims of domestic violence.”
The Domestic Violence Reform Act, signed on June 4 by Gov. Nikki Haley, allows for harsher penalties based on the number of times an individual has been charged with domestic violence and the severity of the crime.