Question: We read a lot about domestic violence in the newspaper these days –with charges of first, second and third degrees. What are the differences in these degrees? (Asked by a concerned column reader.)

Reply: Indeed, domestic violence is a serious problem. In reading reports in the paper, I’ve wondered about the different degrees of charges myself. But, when trying to find a simple answer, most of my sources were in terms of “legalese” that was difficult to understand. I then asked Richard Whiting, executive editor of the Index-Journal, for help. He supplied me with some not-so-technical articles. Even so, I’ll try to shorten things a bit, because legal explanations tend to become somewhat lengthy in trying to cover everything. Take the U.S. Code definition of domestic violence for example:

“The term ‘domestic violence’ includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or cohabited with the victim as a spouse, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or victim who is protected from a person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction.” (See what I mean?)

The tiers or degrees of domestic violence are based on a list of aggravating factors. The third degree is taken as a base, and then additional factors bump the charge up to second degree and so on. Different states have different laws. Here are South Carolina’s:

DV in the third degree: It is illegal to cause physical harm or injury to another household member as defined under the law, or to offer or attempt to cause physical harm or injury to a household member with apparent present ability to reasonably create imminent fear. This is a misdemeanor and persons found guilty will receive a fine of between $1,000 and $2,000, or jailed for up to 90 days, or both.

DV in the second degree: Similar to third degree in that the defendant either caused harm or injury or threatened it, but a second-degree factor must also be proven. These factors are: moderate bodily injury results or the act was accomplished by means likely to result in moderate bodily injury. Such injuries include prolonged loss of consciousness, temporary or moderate disfigurement, temporary loss of a bodily member or organ that needs medical attention using regional or general anesthesia, or fracture or dislocation. Only one factor has to be proven for second degree, but one-time treatment for scratches, cuts or burns generally should not enhance a charge from third degree to second. If convicted, the defendant is guilty of a misdemeanor will receive a fine between $2,500 and $5,000, or jailed for up to three years, or both.

DV in the first degree: Like second degree, a factor must be proven. These include: great bodily harm; use of a firearm in any manner; or while committing what would have been second degree, one of the following also happens: presence of a minor; alleged victim is pregnant; occurrence during a robbery, burglary, kidnapping or theft; impeding a victim’s breathing; or block of access to phone or electronic device to stop the victim from calling the police or medical care.

There you have it… quite involved as I told you and lengthy enough! There is also “DV of a high and aggravated nature” which goes beyond the third degree, but I’ll let you imagine the factors for this.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): He who strikes the first blow admits he’s lost the argument.

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to