by
James Dill Jr. was convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine, and the trial court sentenced him to a prison term of ten years. Dill appealed his conviction, and the court of appeals affirmed. Sheriff's deputies searched Dill's residence. Including Dill, five or six individuals were inside the residence at the time of the search. Neither an active methamphetamine lab nor methamphetamine was discovered in Dill's residence. Law enforcement seized five one-pound containers of salt (some full and some partially empty), two bottles of Coleman brand camping fuel, a sixteen-ounce bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a bottle of unknown fluid, and a roll of aluminum foil. Law enforcement did not discover any ephedrine-based medications (or empty blister packs of ephedrine-based medications), lithium strips or batteries, drain cleaners, cold packs, sulfuric acid, or toluene, all of which are commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. At the conclusion of the search, law enforcement placed the seized items in buckets, took four photographs, and immediately destroyed the items without testing for methamphetamine or fingerprints. The items were destroyed without being tested because methamphetamine is highly volatile and may present a danger if placed in storage or tested for methamphetamine. Dill was arrested and indicted for manufacturing methamphetamine. Dill moved pretrial to suppress the evidence found during the execution of the search warrant for lack of probable cause or, in the alternative, for the trial court to require the State to reveal the identity of the confidential informant. The South Carolina Supreme Court conceded it must give "great deference" to a magistrate's finding of probable cause. However, given the totality of the circumstances, the Court found the magistrate lacked a substantial basis for concluding probable cause existed for a search of Dill's residence. Under the narrow facts of this case, the search warrant was therefore invalid, and Dill's conviction was reversed. View "South Carolina v. Dill" on Justia Law

by
David Ross pled guilty in 1979 to lewd act upon a child. Thirty-two years later, he was convicted in magistrate's court of misdemeanor failure to register as a sex offender. Ross argued the automatic imposition of lifetime electronic monitoring required by subsection 23-3-540(E) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2017) as a result of his failure to register was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. Addressing only this particular subsection of 23-3- 540, the South Carolina Supreme Court agreed, and reversed the circuit court's order automatically imposing electronic monitoring. The case was remanded for an individualized inquiry into whether the imposition of monitoring in Ross's circumstances was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. View "South Carolina v. Ross" on Justia Law

by
At issue before the South Carolina Supreme Court was whether the digital information stored on a cell phone may be abandoned such that its privacy is no longer protected by the Fourth Amendment. The victim contacted police after discovering her condominium had been burglarized. The window was broken in one of the bedrooms; a television, laptop computers and some jewelry was taken. The phone was found at the scene of the break-in. A responding police officer took the cell phone at issue in this appeal to the police station and secured it. Days later, the detective retrieving the phone from the locker saw the background picture of a black male with dreadlocks. Considering the phone to be "abandoned property," he guessed the code to unlock the screen—1-2-3-4—and opened the phone without a warrant. The detective looked through the "contacts" stored on the phone and found a person listed as "Grandma." He entered "Grandma's" phone number into a database called Accurint and identified a list of her relatives, which included a man matching the age of the person pictured on the background screen of the cell phone—defendant Lamar Brown. The detective entered Brown's name into the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles database and looked at Brown's driver's license photograph. After comparing the photographs, the detective determined Brown was the man pictured on the screen of the cell phone. Brown was questioned; Brown admitted the phone belonged to him, but that it was lost. Brown admitted that no one else could have had his cell phone on the night of the burglary. Brown was ultimately charged with first degree burglary. The trial court determined the information on the cell phone in this case had been abandoned, and admitted it into evidence. A divided panel of the court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals. View "South Carolina v. Brown" on Justia Law

by
Timothy Pulley appealed after he was convicted for trafficking cocaine base (cocaine) of ten grams or more, but less than twenty-eight grams in violation of section 44-53-375(C)(1) of the South Carolina Code (2018). Pulley argued the trial court erred in: (1) charging a permissive inference that knowledge and possession of a substance may be inferred when the substance is found on the property under the defendant's control; (2) failing to charge the jury that the State must prove a complete chain of custody; (3) failing to suppress the cocaine due to an incomplete chain of custody; (4) failing to suppress the cocaine due to an invalid inventory search; (5) finding the cocaine was seized pursuant to a valid search incident to arrest; and (6) failing to require the State to open fully on the law and the facts of the case in closing argument and reply only to arguments of Pulley's defense counsel. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court found the trial court erred in concluding the State established a complete chain of custody. Accordingly, the Court reversed Pulley's conviction and sentence, and remanded for further proceedings. View "South Carolina v. Pulley" on Justia Law

by
Timothy Pulley appealed after he was convicted for trafficking cocaine base (cocaine) of ten grams or more, but less than twenty-eight grams in violation of section 44-53-375(C)(1) of the South Carolina Code (2018). Pulley argued the trial court erred in: (1) charging a permissive inference that knowledge and possession of a substance may be inferred when the substance is found on the property under the defendant's control; (2) failing to charge the jury that the State must prove a complete chain of custody; (3) failing to suppress the cocaine due to an incomplete chain of custody; (4) failing to suppress the cocaine due to an invalid inventory search; (5) finding the cocaine was seized pursuant to a valid search incident to arrest; and (6) failing to require the State to open fully on the law and the facts of the case in closing argument and reply only to arguments of Pulley's defense counsel. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court found the trial court erred in concluding the State established a complete chain of custody. Accordingly, the Court reversed Pulley's conviction and sentence, and remanded for further proceedings. View "South Carolina v. Pulley" on Justia Law

by
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted cross-petitions for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' unpublished decision in South Carolina v. Perez, Op. No. 2015-UP-217 (S.C. Ct. App. filed May 8, 2015), wherein the court determined: (1) the trial court's refusal to admit testimony of a witness' U-visa application was harmless error; (2) the trial court properly admitted evidence of prior bad acts Venancio Diaz Perez committed against another minor; and (3) Perez's sentence was vindictive and a violation of due process. Perez was indicted on charges of criminal sexual conduct with a minor and lewd act on a minor for acts committed on a child ("Minor 1") whom his wife babysat in their residence. Prior to trial, the judge held an in camera hearing to determine whether to allow another child ("Minor 2"), who Perez's wife also babysat, to testify at trial regarding acts of sexual abuse Perez allegedly committed against Minor 2. After hearing testimony from both children, the trial court decided to allow Minor 2 to testify pursuant to South Carolina v. Wallace, 683 S.E.2d 275 (2009). The Supreme Court found that although the failure to admit evidence of a witness' U-visa did not automatically equate to reversible error, it found the trial court's failure to admit evidence of Mother 2's U-visa application particularly significant in this case given: (1) the lack of physical evidence of the alleged abuse; and (2) Minor 1's conflicting testimony. Further, the Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals' credibility analysis inappropriate for appellate review; because there was no physical evidence of the alleged abuse, the case rested solely on credibility determinations. Thus, Perez's opportunity to elicit testimony from the State's witnesses regarding any potential bias was critical to his defense. Therefore, the Court found the Confrontation Clause violation here was not harmless. The matter was reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Perez" on Justia Law

by
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted cross-petitions for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' unpublished decision in South Carolina v. Perez, Op. No. 2015-UP-217 (S.C. Ct. App. filed May 8, 2015), wherein the court determined: (1) the trial court's refusal to admit testimony of a witness' U-visa application was harmless error; (2) the trial court properly admitted evidence of prior bad acts Venancio Diaz Perez committed against another minor; and (3) Perez's sentence was vindictive and a violation of due process. Perez was indicted on charges of criminal sexual conduct with a minor and lewd act on a minor for acts committed on a child ("Minor 1") whom his wife babysat in their residence. Prior to trial, the judge held an in camera hearing to determine whether to allow another child ("Minor 2"), who Perez's wife also babysat, to testify at trial regarding acts of sexual abuse Perez allegedly committed against Minor 2. After hearing testimony from both children, the trial court decided to allow Minor 2 to testify pursuant to South Carolina v. Wallace, 683 S.E.2d 275 (2009). The Supreme Court found that although the failure to admit evidence of a witness' U-visa did not automatically equate to reversible error, it found the trial court's failure to admit evidence of Mother 2's U-visa application particularly significant in this case given: (1) the lack of physical evidence of the alleged abuse; and (2) Minor 1's conflicting testimony. Further, the Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals' credibility analysis inappropriate for appellate review; because there was no physical evidence of the alleged abuse, the case rested solely on credibility determinations. Thus, Perez's opportunity to elicit testimony from the State's witnesses regarding any potential bias was critical to his defense. Therefore, the Court found the Confrontation Clause violation here was not harmless. The matter was reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Perez" on Justia Law

by
After Randy Horton won this action seeking the production of documents under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the circuit court awarded him attorneys' fees at a rate of $100 per hour. On appeal, the South Carolina Supreme Court addressed solely the question of whether the court abused its discretion in selecting that hourly rate. "When a trial court's decision is made on a sound evidentiary basis and is adequately explained with specific findings—as the law requires—we defer to the trial court's discretion. Here, however, there is no evidence in the record that supports the circuit court's reduction of the hourly rate." Rather than remand, the Court reversed the trial court and awarded Horton $35,611.50 in attorneys' fees and $1,096.56 in costs. View "Horton v. Jasper County School District" on Justia Law

by
The circuit court ruled Appellant Kim Murphy was not qualified to be a candidate for election to a Richland County seat on the District 5 Richland-Lexington School Board of Trustees (School Board). The circuit court based this ruling on its conclusion that Murphy resided in Lexington County. Upon review, the South Carolina Supreme Court first found the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over Respondents' declaratory judgment action challenging Murphy's qualifications. Second, the Court held there was probative evidence in the record supporting the circuit court's conclusion that Murphy resided in Lexington County. Therefore, the Court affirmed the circuit court's ruling that Murphy is not qualified to be a candidate for election to a Richland County seat on the School Board. View "Gantt v. Selph" on Justia Law

by
Sentry Select Insurance Company brought a legal malpractice lawsuit in federal district court against the lawyer it hired to defend its insured in an automobile accident case. The federal court certified two questions of South Carolina law to the South Carolina Supreme Court pertaining to: (1) whether an insurer may maintain a direct malpractice action against counsel hired to represent its insured where the insurance company has a duty to defend; and (2) whether a legal malpractice claim may be assigned to a third-party who was responsible for payment of legal fees and any judgment incurred as a result of the litigation in which the alleged malpractice arose. The South Carolina Court answered the first question "yes:" "However, we will not place an attorney in a conflict between his client's interests and the interests of the insurer. Thus, the insurer may recover only for the attorney's breach of his duty to his client, when the insurer proves the breach is the proximate cause of damages to the insurer. If the interests of the client are the slightest bit inconsistent with the insurer's interests, there can be no liability of the attorney to the insurer, for we will not permit the attorney's duty to the client to be affected by the interests of the insurance company. Whether there is any inconsistency between the client's and the insurer's interests in the circumstances of an individual case is a question of law to be answered by the trial court." As to question two, the Supreme Court declined to answer the question: "We are satisfied that our answer to question one renders the second question not 'determinative of the cause then pending in the certifying court,' and thus it is not necessary for us to answer question two." View "Sentry Select Insurance v. Maybank Law Firm" on Justia Law