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Lexington Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer

CHARGED WITH DOMESTIC VIOLENCE? Contact Our Firm to Begin Working Toward a Solution

If convicted, you will lose your right to carry or possess a firearm and will face a substantial sentence or a high fine. It only gets worse for those with a prior offense.

Contact the Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC for your free consultation.

South Carolina Criminal Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence (DV), is one of the most common criminal offenses now in South Carolina. DV charges are either misdemeanor or felony depending on the exact nature of the allegations and the defendant's prior history of DV offenses. All DV 2nd, DV 1st, and DVHAN charges are prosecuted in General Sessions and carry a possibility of a multi-year prison sentence for a first offense.

James Snell has taken a particular interest in defending clients charged with domestic violence cases. Attorney James Snell is the author of "Challenging CDV", which is the book written on the defense of South Carolina Domestic Violence charges. He is also a member of a local committee that provides recommendations to area service providers and law enforcement on regarding domestic violence issues.

We recognize that charges may be brought in cases where there is little or no evidence. Many times situations are blown completely out of control by law enforcement. A DV arrest or conviction may have serious and lifelong consequences that may affect every aspect of your life. If you or a loved one has been charged you owe it to yourselves to educate yourself on the relevant law and court procedures and retain a domestic violence defense attorney. Mr. Snell is experienced in representing both men and women charged with domestic violence, including clients with and without previous arrest records. What follows is information primarily for those charged with DV 3rd Degree.

We Regularly Represent Men and Women Charged with the following offenses:

How Do Your Deal with False or Exaggerated Accusations?

Our Lexington domestic violence attorneys understand that just because someone has been charged with domestic violence does not mean they are guilty of any wrongdoing. Some cases are brought by one partner who may obtain an advantage in a divorce or custody case. Law enforcement that responds to a 911 call may have been erroneously trained.

They may be under the impression that when they report for a domestic disturbance call, they must make an arrest, even if they lack probable cause to believe that any crime actually took place. We also understand how alcohol, drugs, or mental health issues can play a role.

Many situations are completely blown out of proportion and as a result, you may be improperly or overly charged. Defendants are frequently pushed through the system, even if a plain reading of the alleged facts giving rise to the arrest would fail to meet the legal requirements for a criminal domestic violence charge.

We also assist clients in appealing their recent DV convictions, so do not hesitate to contact a Lexington Criminal Defense Attorney at our firm today.

South Carolina’s Domestic Violence Laws are Codified in S.C. Code § 16-25-10, et seq. The law makes it illegal to:

  • Cause physical harm or injury to a person’s own household member; or
  • Offer or attempt to cause physical harm or injury to a person’s own household member with apparent present ability under circumstances reasonably creating fear of imminent peril

Household member is defined as:

  • As a spouse;
  • A former spouse;
  • Persons who have a child in common; or
  • A male or female who are cohabiting or formerly have cohabitated

The penalties if convicted for DV 3rd Degree are as follows:

  • Up to 90 days in jail; and/or
  • A fine of approximately $5,000; and/or
  • 26 weeks of domestic abuse counseling. Prosecuted in Magistrate Court (although some counties like Spartanburg refer to General Sessions); and,
  • Inability to purchase or possess a firearm or ammunition.

Additional penalties will include a criminal record, difficulty in entering certain foreign countries or in remaining legally in the United States or becoming a U.S. Citizen, loss of ability to possess a Concealed Weapon Permit, and possible lifetime employment consequences.
The law in South Carolina is that an officer must make a domestic violence arrest when they are called to a domestic disturbance and find evidence of actual physical harm along with cause to believe the incident has only recently occurred. Many times, officers may be erroneously trained that they must make an arrest every time they are called to a domestic disturbance. This is not the case - although it creates situations in which individuals are arrested and charged with only minimal, or no evidence that any violation of the law actually occurred.

The Criminal Domestic Violence law is different from other offenses, such as simple assault, in that it does not require that there was actually any injury or attempt to cause any injury to another. It criminalizes conduct that in all other situations would not be a criminal act. Individuals may be arrested based on a misinterpretation of the statute by the officer or based solely on unsupported or false allegations. However, those arrested and charged with domestic violence are entitled to all of the protections of the law, and an arrest does not automatically result in a conviction or in any of the penalties.

Individuals charged with any level of domestic violence in South Carolina are entitled to be represented by an attorney at every stage of their case. After an individual is arrested, they will be transported by the police to the local jail or county detention center. There they will be "booked" or admitted in, which will include a photograph and fingerprinting. Usually, within 24 hours, they will be taken before a Magistrate for purposes of setting bond. The Magistrate will determine what conditions should be imposed to allow for a release pending trial and whether or not a cash or surety bond will be imposed. Defendants may be represented by an attorney at the Bond Court.

After an individual has been released, they will frequently be under an order set by the Bond Court to have no contact with the alleged victim in their case. If this "no contact" order was put into place, and the defendant is found to be in contact (even if such was initiated by the alleged victim) the defendant can be held in contempt of court and may be sentenced to 30 days or more in jail. The "no contact" provision may be imposed even in cases where the parties are married, living together, and have small children. James Snell is familiar with the steps required to request a "no contact" order be lifted by the Court in appropriate cases.

The next step in the process will be a referral to the county's central CDV Court (Lexington and Richland and other large counties), the local Magistrate or the Municipal Court. This Court date is usually written on the blue ticket or will be provided at the Bond Court.
At The Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, we represent individuals charged with all levels of domestic violence. After we are contacted by or on behalf of an individual who has been charged or is under investigation, for domestic violence we will schedule an initial consultation with Mr. Snell. At this consultation, you will have an opportunity to learn about the different options available to you.

Upon being retained Mr. Snell will file the necessary motions and paperwork with the Court to request that he receives the evidence the police or prosecute has and may be planning to use against you. Once that evidence is made available you will have an opportunity to review it fully with him and agree on an appropriate strategy for your case. Once your charges are formally challenged by our office you will ordinarily not have to appear on your original Court date (given on your ticket or at Bond Court) and instead, any contested trial would not be scheduled until after we have an opportunity to investigate your case and review the evidence intended to be used against you.

We also regularly make us of advanced defense strategies designed to give our clients the best chance at either an agreed-upon resolution with the prosecutor or success in trial. This includes:

  • Use of a licensed private investigator to help uncover favorable evidence, or to preserve defense-friendly versions of events
  • Voluntarily enrollment in counseling programs
  • Use of psychologists or other expert witnesses

After a review of your case, and negotiation with the police or prosecutor, it may be possible that your case will be resolved in one of the following ways:

  • Referral to a program for individuals charged with domestic violence that will result in you not pleading or being found guilty and upon completion, your charges will be dismissed and your record expunged;
  • Referral for a comprehensive jury trial in which all facets of your case or charges will be challenged;
  • Through plea negotiations to a reduced or lowed charge;
  • Pre-trial dismissal by the prosecutor

Sometimes when an individual is arrested for domestic violence there are companion criminal charges brought at the same time. These may include (not a comprehensive list):

  • Old bench warrants
  • Child support warrants
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Resisting arrest
  • Public intoxication
  • Weapons Violations
  • Drug Possession
  • Cruelty to Children
  • Assault on 3rd Parties
  • Kidnapping
  • Burglary
  • Sexual Assault/Rape
  • Probation Violations

How are Domestic Violence Cases Classified?

The two classifications for domestic violence charges in South Carolina are misdemeanor and felony. Misdemeanor domestic violence cases are prosecuted in the magistrate court for first-time offenders and are punishable by either 90 days in jail or a fine of over $5,000. Repeat offenders, or those charged with felony domestic violence have their cases prosecuted in the court of general sessions. Many first-time offenses though are actually now prosecuted in General Sessions, with a possible sentence of up to three years (for DV 2nd Degree) through twenty years (for DVHAN).

In cases where the parties are married, living together or have children together, the victim may be referred to the family court for the filing of an order of protection under the South Carolina Protection from Domestic Abuse Act. At an Order of Protection Hearing, the offender may be ordered out of the home, required to pay temporary alimony and lose custody or visitation rights to children. Even in cases without an order of protection, the bond court's "no contact" order may separate parties from each other and their children, destroying whole families in the process.

Removing Bond Restrictions

Often individuals are told in bond court to have “no contact” with their partner. This means no phone calls, e-mails, text messages, or in-person contact. A violation, no matter how slight, can result in an immediate return to jail for weeks or months (bond won’t be set this time). This can be a huge problem for working families, married couples, or for situations where one spouse is a caregiver for the other’s physical or mental health needs.

Upon request, we can file the paperwork with the court to lift the no-contact restrictions immediately upon being retained. In almost all cases the court will require a hearing with all parties present before making a decision.

General Sessions Domestic Violence

Many domestic violence charges are now referred to General Sessions. This is felony court, and uses the same procedures, prosecutors, judges as for cases like murder and armed robbery. Many people, especially those with no prior criminal record and who believe that they have been falsely accused, are shocked to learn exactly how this court operates.

If your case is pending in General Sessions, there are a few things you need to know right away:

  • Do not violate the no-contact order - If you do you could end up in jail for weeks or months, even if you are totally innocent of the domestic violence charge.
  • The preliminary hearing is an important step - however, it is not a trial - A preliminary hearing is to determine if the accusation by the police against you fits the legal definition of your charge. We have specific strategies to maximize the benefit of these hearings that we can share with you during a confidential consultation.
  • The initial or first appearance is not a trial date - Unlike a speeding ticket, where your court date has you in court to face a judge, there is no judge or any decision made at the initial appearance. It is simply a “check-in” procedure with the prosecutor’s office. However, there are many things you can do before this date to maximize the chances of success in your case. We will recommend a specific defense strategy for you to help you make the most of the time you have between a domestic violence arrest and when your case actually does get decided.

Is Domestic Violence a Felony?

Domestic violence can be a felony. Domestic Violence is usually charged as a misdemeanor. However, it's escalated to a felony charge if: Bodily harm or sexual assault was caused to a minor. There was serious bodily injury to the victim. Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature and Domestic Violence – 1st Degree are both felonies. Domestic Violence – 2nd Degree and Domestic Violence – 3rd Degree are both misdemeanors.

Is there a Statute of Limitations on Domestic Violence in SC?

In South Carolina, there is no statute of limitations for domestic violence. This means that technically someone could be arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed for CDV offense that occurred five, ten, or even fifty years ago. The limitation is generally three years for filing a civil lawsuit based on an alleged CDV incident. This also applies to batteries or assault. Older claims may be barred by other legal principles, such as laches, or if admitted into evidence may only be given minimal consideration by the judge. Although there is no statute of limitations on the criminal charge of CDV, a delay in reporting (even a few days or hours) can be used as a defense in trial.

What are the Penalties for Domestic Violence?

The Penalties for domestic violence can vary depending on aggravating factors such as using a weapon, who the victim was, and more. A domestic violence conviction carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. One of the most serious degrees of domestic violence is first degree. First-degree domestic violence can include the following:

  • Resulting in great bodily injury to the victim
  • The act is committed in front of a minor

A first-degree domestic violence conviction is a felony carrying up to 10 years in prison.

  • 2nd Degree Domestic Violence happens when a person commits a crime and it results in moderate bodily injury, the perpetrator has one prior conviction of domestic violence. A 2nd Degree Domestic Violence conviction carries a required fine of between $2,500.00 and $5,000.00, imprisonment of up to three years, or both.
  • 3rd Degree Domestic Violence occurs when the 1st or 2nd degree happens without the aggravating factors such as weapons, or attacking those that are pregnant, etc. A third-degree domestic violence conviction can lead to a person going to jail for up to 90 days with a fine of between $2,500.00 to $5,000.00.

Can Domestic Violence Cases be Dismissed?

Domestic Violence cases can be dismissed, but only by the prosecutor and not the victim. Once someone accuses a person of domestic violence, the prosecutor will gather every piece of evidence possible to prove the incident occurred. This can include photos, eye-witness testimony, medical records, and more. While domestic violence charges should always be taken seriously when there is merit to them, false accusations create big problems for both the person wrongly accused and the prosecutor. If a prosecutor discovers that the accuser has a history of falsely alleging domestic violence, they may feel that a jury will not believe them during a trial — since a defense attorney will likely bring up that history. This may lead to the charges being dismissed.

Handling Your Case in the Lexington County Criminal Domestic Violence Court

Domestic violence arrests are so sought out by local law enforcement that local communities have established special courts just to hear them. The Lexington County Criminal Domestic Violence Court, or Lexington CDV Court, is located at 139 East Main Street, Lexington, South Carolina. This court prosecutes DV 3rd charges where the arrest was made by the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

The Richland County Criminal Domestic Violence Court, or Richland CDV Court, is located at 2500 Decker Boulevard, Columbia, South Carolina. This court prosecutes DV 3rd charges brought by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. If a DV 3rd degree arrest was made by city police, such as Lexington, Irmo, Columbia, Cayce, Springdale, South Congaree, or West Columbia, then the cases will be held at that city’s municipal court.

Why Should I Choose You to Represent Me?

  • We will help ensure that you properly preserve your rights as well as not being pressured into a situation that is not in your best interest.
  • We are able to represent those charged with criminal charges related to the family.
  • James Snell is also the author of “Challenging CDV” which is the book on the defense of South Carolina domestic violence charges.
  • Our head attorney, James R. Snell, Jr., is an experienced lawyer who has skill representing clients in Lexington, Columbia and elsewhere in South Carolina. Criminal Domestic Violence, or DV, is one of the most vigorously prosecuted offenses under South Carolina law.

If you have been charged with domestic violence, please do not hesitate to contact our Lexington domestic violence lawyers. We offer a free consultation. We are highly experienced in defending you from domestic violence claims, so please call us at (803)359-3301.

Top FAQ for Those Arrested for Domestic Violence

After interviewing hundreds of people who have been recently arrested for criminal domestic violence in South Carolina I have put together a list of the top questions I most often hear. I recommend that everyone who has themselves or had a loved one arrested for domestic violence learn as much about the law as they can.

When I am hired to represent someone for CDV my job is to help them avoid a criminal conviction in Court. If you would like to meet with me about your case call my office anytime at (888) 301-6004.

What constitutes criminal domestic violence in South Carolina?

Domestic Violence, or DV, is a unique crime in South Carolina. The law was written to authorize the police to arrest as many potential abusers as possible. No one must actually be hurt in order to violate the law. It is violated by either touching your partner in a way they don't like, trying to touch them in a way they wouldn't like or telling them or acting like you are going to touch them. Because of the way the law is written in covers everything from throwing a pillow and missing, to actually punching or kicking the other person.

In order to qualify as a domestic violence charge there must be a special relationship between the alleged victim and the defendant. This is called household members. Under current South Carolina law that includes people who have been married to each other, who have children together, or a man and woman who have romantically lived together.

Did the police have enough evidence to arrest me?

DV is treated as a "zero tolerance" offense by most South Carolina police agencies. This means that the police are instructed that they must arrest someone whenever there is any indication that a DV crime occurred. The legal standard to justify an arrest is called probable cause and it usually exists when the police see physical signs of an argument or are told by anyone that there was physical contact, attempted physical contact or the threat of physical contact made. It is important to understand that probable cause is a much lower standard the beyond a reasonable doubt which is what is supposed to be applied by the Court. Many times, police make arrests when later a jury in a trial disagrees and finds someone not guilty.

At Bond Court, the judge told me not to have any contact with my partner. Will anyone be monitoring this? What happens if I violate this order?

Many police departments have officers who follow up on DV arrests to make sure that the defendant is following the no contact order. This may include unannounced visits at the home of the defendant or the alleged victim. It may also include direct questioning of the alleged victim to see if there has been any contact. The police and Court will consider contact to be any communication whether in person, by telephone, text message, e-mail or even through websites. If you are found to have violated the order you can receive up to thirty days in jail automatically (no ability to post bond again) for first offense DV charges. You also may owe the bondsman the full value of your original bond (which may be $5,000 or more).

How long does the no-contact order last?

The restriction will last until the conclusion of your case (when you are found either guilty or not guilty by the Court) or until it is specifically modified by the Court.

What is involved in getting the Court to life the no-contact order?

There are procedures to have the no-contact bond lifted. Typically, this is done in cases where the defendant is challenging their arrest. The alleged victim will need to consent, and it involves a hearing in front of a judge. Only a judge can modify the no-contact provisions of the bond. We can help file the necessary paperwork and request the hearing.

Does no contact apply if I own the house?

A no-contact order that you received in bond court will prevent you from going around the alleged victim in your case. Most no-contact orders don't pertain to a location - just the other person. If your partner is staying in a home that you own or you are renting you will not be allowed to return (other than to pick up belongings when they are not home). If your partner won't leave your home and you want them out, you will have to file for an eviction.

My partner did not want me to be arrested. They are planning on asking for the charge to be dropped. Will this happen?

There is a state-wide "no drop" policy in place for all DV charges. This means that the police or prosecutor is not allowed to drop charges at the request of the alleged victim. This rule is in place to break the perceived cycle of domestic abuse victims seeking to drop the charges. Unfortunately, it applies in all domestic violence cases, even ones based on no actual physical harm or threat of harm.

What are the chances the Court will find me guilty if I go by myself?

Depending on the facts of your case it may not be good. Because of the way South Carolina law is written, it can be very easy to technically violate the law. When a judge finds that the law was violated, even a little, this will result in a guilty verdict. Facts such as it was the first time the police were ever called, it was the first time you were ever arrested, no one was hurt or your partner wants the charges dropped are not legal defenses. When you go to Court by yourself unless you are as knowledgeable as a criminal defense attorney about the law, rules of evidence, and Court procedures you will be at a substantial disadvantage to the police and prosecutors.

What will happen if the Court finds me guilty?

If you are found guilty of first offense DV you will face a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to ninety days in jail. This will also come with a publicly available criminal record and a restriction on your ability to possess or purchase a firearm. You may also not be able to travel into certain countries, and may face the loss of employment or any professional license.

I don’t think I deserve to be arrested. Can I go talk to the judge and get him to dismiss my case without having to go through the wait and expense of a trial?

South Carolina judges are not allowed to discuss pending cases with either the prosecution or the defense without the other side being present. This rule will prevent the judge from being able to take your phone calls or meet with you before your Court date to discuss your case. South Carolina law also prohibits judges from dismissing cases pending in the Magistrate, Municipal, or CDV Court prior to trial. Your only opportunity to directly discuss your case with a judge is often in the context of a trial - where you run the risk of being convicted and immediately sentenced.

Do I really need to hire a lawyer?

Neither the police nor the Court is allowed to give you legal advice or tell you how to defend yourself from this charge. Hiring a lawyer will provide you access to legal strategies, such as the availability of a jury trial, pre-trial discovery, and motions to exclude unreliable evidence. Further, a lawyer will be aware of all possible resolutions to your case, such as counseling in lieu of trial, that can help you avoid a criminal conviction and having the DV on your record. Because DV is such a serious offense everyone who has been arrested should at least consult with a lawyer to learn all of their options before appearing in Court.

Do I have a record of domestic violence even if I haven’t been to court yet?

South Carolina has a public arrest record. This means that as soon as you are arrested your case becomes a public record. If you were taken to jail at the time you were arrested (as almost all DV defendants are) the jail will report your arrest to SLED in Columbia and your pending case will show up on an official background, check within just a few days. The fact that you were taken to bond court will also be publicly available to anyone who searches for your name on your county's court website. This is true even for cases that haven't gone to court yet. But the record will only say you were arrested- it will not show that you were found guilty or not guilty at that point.

What can I do about this record? Can I have it expunged?

Yes. You can qualify to have your DV arrest removed (called expunged) from your record in one of three ways:

  • By being found not-guilty after a trial.
  • By participating in a counseling in lieu of trial program (called PTI).

If you were convicted in court and have no other criminal record, you can wait five years and then apply for the expungement.

How long does an expungement take?

Your record will be removed from all publically available government records and background searches within 2-6 months (approximate time depending on the backlog at your county court and also SLED in Columbia).

What is the difference between being arrested for DV and convicted of DV?

An arrest means that you have been officially accused or charged with CDV. At this point that is all it is, an accusation. Legally, the police only need a low standard of evidence called probable cause to charge you and take you to jail. Being arrested is not the same thing as being convicted.
You are only convicted if one of three things happen:

  • You go to court and plead guilty.
  • You go to court and plead no-contest (it is the same as a guilty plea).
  • You have a trial and are found guilty by the court.

You will not be convicted if your case is dismissed, referred to pre-trial intervention (PTI), or if you have a trial and are found not-guilty. If you are not convicted you will qualify for an expungement.

What action is my employer allowed to take against me?

Generally speaking most employees in South Carolina are considered at will, meaning that they can be terminated for nearly any reason. So most employees can be displined, suspended, or fired just for being accused of DV or any other crime. Many employers withold judgment however until the case is over, so the best way to avoid employment problems is to avoid losing your case.

Do I have to testify against my spouse?

South Carolina has a spousal privilege law that will protect you from being required to testify against your legal spouse. The privilege only applies to statements or things that you were told. It does not cover events that you personally observed. If you and the judge disagree about whether you are entitled to claim privilege on any specific question you could be held in contempt and fined or put in jail yourself. For this reason it is a good idea for you to consult with an attorney before going to court to make sure your rights are protected.

If I can’t afford an attorney, what should I do?

DV is a very serious criminal charge that can have lifelong consequences for anyone who is convicted in court. The fine, even for a first offense, can be higher than what an experienced defense attorney would charge. So we recommend that anyone charged make every effort to adjust their budget to afford an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney and are legally indigent, you will qualify for a public defender.

Will DV make my car insurance rates go up?

Many DV 3rd degree and 2nd degree charges in South Carolina are issued on blue traffic ticket forms. Although your DV ticket might look an awful lot like a speeding ticket, it's not a traffic offense. So your insurance rates will not go up and no points will be assessed against your license. Keep in mind that while the DV ticket might look like a regular traffic ticket it is actually much, much more serious.

Can I sue my ex for having me arrested?

At the conclusion of your case if you were successful with your defense, yes you can sue your ex for making a false DV allegation against you. But you will likely spend more in legal fees for that case than you did on your original CDV defense. And even if that case is successful, and you receive a judgment in your favor, you are not guaranteed that you will ever collect a dime. In fact most people in South Carolina are judgment proof, meaning that you can never collect lawsuit winnings against them.

Should I worry about my ex suing me for DV assault?

Most people shouldn't worry about being sued due to the practical limitations of these cases (see the answer above). But if you are truly wealthy then you might have some concerns, especially if you weren't successful with your DV case and were convicted in Court.

What exactly does a defense attorney do to help?

Our job is to assist clients in avoiding a conviction for criminal domestic violence. We do this by first understanding the law that will apply to your case. This includes not only DV law, but also criminal law in general, court procedure, and rules of evidence. We are also experienced with negotiating with police and professional domestic violence prosecutors. This enables us to either negotiate out of court resolutions for clients (such as reduction in charges or entrance into a diversion program), or challenge the case in court seeking a not-guilty verdict for our client.

If I hire you, can you guarantee me a specific result?

Ethically no lawyer can ever make you any promises about how any criminal case will be resolved. Lawyers in South Carolina are also specifically ethically prohibited against making guarantees in any criminal defense matter. What we can promise is that we will do our best work to see that your case is favorably resolved.

Can you still be arrested if you weren’t married?

In July, 2017, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the portion of the domestic violence law applying to unmarried people without children together was unconstitutional. You may have seen this reported on the news. After realized the impact that this change would have on police and current prosecutions, the court quickly back-tracked their ruling (a legal process called a stay). So for that reason it is important for a lawyer to object to a DV prosecution between unmarried individuals who don't have children in common, but legally those cases are still allowed to be prosecuted as domestic violence.

Do police over-charge people with serious DV charges on purpose?

Yes, in our opinion police regularly use higher-level DV charges than necessary. A big reason is that lower-level DV 3rd degree charges have to be prosecuted by the police officers themselves in Magistrate or Municipal Court. When a higher-level charge is brought the cases are referred to in General Sessions and are handled by the prosecutor. This may be especially appealing to municipalities who then no longer have to pay for the prosecution; it would be handled for "free" from the solicitor's office. Another reason is that police may think that by charging at a higher-level it will increase the chances that the defendant will plead guilty to a lower level charge.

Criminal Defense Attorney James Snell of Lexington, South Carolina, represents clients charged with all levels of domestic violence. Initial appointments in his office are provided on a confidential and no-cost basis. Contact today!

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