Solicitor's proposals merit consideration

January 15, 2010 

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone has his legislative priorities straight.

His wish list for lawmakers includes a new charge for people who commit crimes while out on bond for previous charges. It might not reduce the overall incidence of crime. That type of person generally isn't thinking about the long-term consequencesof hisactions. But it could give prosecutors another tool to use in their efforts to lock up career criminals.

Stone's office estimates that 10 percent to 20 percent of criminals commit serious crimes while out on bond, and he wants the legislature to create a new felony criminal charge that would carry a five-year prison sentence for those who do.

Stone also wants to:

• Open public access to emergency medical services records -- data that are off-limits to law enforcement officials and the public under current state law.

• Charge people convicted of criminal domestic violence $100 to help cover prosecution costs.

Stone has complained about delays caused by a law that seals off EMS records without a specific court order.

He said he first encountered difficulty while prosecuting a man convicted and sentenced in the 2007 murder of his wife at their Okatie home.Stone wanted Beaufort County EMS paramedics to testify about what they saw when they entered the crime scene.

"EMS was crucial in determining what the crime scene looked like," Stone said. "They said, 'We can't talk to you about this.' "

Stone has asked legislators to change the law to make exceptions for law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, who need EMS documents and interviews with paramedics to build cases.

But changes to the law shouldn't stop there. The public in general should have access to data and other information that can tell them how well emergency medical services are being provided.

Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee,has filed a bill that would repeal provisions of the 2004 law that restricts public access to EMS data.

The criminal domestic violence fee is a budget issue. The Solicitor's Office has seen its budget cut about $50,000 so far this year, Stone said. For the past two years, the state has cut all the money it used to give solicitors to prosecute domestic-violence cases. Before that, the 14th Judicial Circuit received about $135,000 annually.

Stone has taken on prosecuting even misdemeanor domestic violence cases in General Sessions Court instead of leaving them in magistrate courts. He has said this approach sends a strong message that his office takes domestic violence cases seriously.

These cases are prosecuted by an attorney; victims have access to a victims assistance program. His on-call system has an assistant solicitor talking to a victim within 24 hours of an incident. Each of the five counties has assistant solicitors assigned to prosecuting domestic violence cases.

The approach also offers continuity. The Solicitor's Office can use pre-trial intervention and counseling for batterers to try to prevent the violence from occurring again. And it has a case file on each offender.

But it also takes money.

Importantly, the fee proposed by Stone would only be levied against those convicted of domestic violence. Stone points out that fines already exist on a variety of other crimes, including drug and traffic violations. The money is collected by the state and distributed to solicitors to prosecute offenders of a particular crime.

Stone's legislative list is targeted and practical and deserves serious consideration from lawmakers.

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