Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Petitioner the Senate of the State of South Carolina, by and through its President Pro Tempore, initiated this action in the original jurisdiction of the South Carolina Supreme Court to declare Respondent Governor Henry D. McMaster's (Governor McMaster or Governor) recess appointment of Respondent Charles M. Condon (Condon) to the office of Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Public Service Authority (the Board) pursuant to section 1-3-210 of the South Carolina Code (2005), as invalid. Avoiding any political issues, the Court concluded the pertinent provisions of the applicable statute were ambiguous, and held Governor McMaster's appointment of Condon during the 2018 recess was valid. View "The Senate v. McMaster" on Justia Law

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Darrell Goss was convicted of kidnapping, assault and battery with intent to kill (ABWIK), and armed robbery in connection with the armed robbery of a clothing store in North Charleston. In this post-conviction relief (PCR) matter, the PCR court denied relief, and the court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Goss's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the court of appeals. Under normal circumstances, the Supreme Court would apply its deferential standard of review to the PCR court’s findings. However, several witnesses were present at the PCR hearing and were prepared to testify to certain facts and circumstances. Some of these facts and circumstances were pertinent to evidence Goss claims should have been presented to the trial jury. Some of these facts and circumstances may have been pertinent to the dynamic surrounding trial counsel's alleged deficient failure to interview these individuals and perhaps call them as witnesses at trial. Under ordinary circumstances, once the witnesses testified at the PCR hearing, the PCR court would normally make findings as to their credibility. The Supreme Court determined the PCR court erred in taking judicial notice of the witnesses' testimony and then concluding these witnesses would not have been credible to a jury because of their relationships with Goss. “When a factfinder evaluates the credibility of witnesses, the mental process employed often requires the credibility evaluations to be based upon a consideration of all the evidence, not simply the parts the factfinder chooses to see and hear first-hand. Here, the PCR court's decision to take judicial notice of the substance of witnesses' testimony and then find those witnesses not credible diluted the process to the point where the PCR court's factual findings - and perhaps the legal conclusions arising from those factual findings - were based upon an incomplete consideration of all the evidence.” The matter was remanded back to the circuit court for a de novo PCR hearing. View "Goss v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Harold Cartwright, III was convicted of one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC), eight counts of first-degree CSC with a minor, two counts of second-degree CSC with a minor, one count of third-degree CSC, and sixteen counts of committing a lewd act on a minor. He appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in: (1) ruling evidence of his suicide attempt was admissible to show consciousness of guilt; and (2) qualifying a witness and allowing her to testify as an expert in the field of "child sexual abuse dynamics." The Court of Appeals affirmed. On appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court, Cartwright argued the State failed to establish a nexus between the suicide attempt and the charges against him. Cartwright maintains the nexus should involve much more than the defendant merely understanding he has been charged with committing a crime. While acknowledging he was aware of the charges, Cartwright asserts that, because he turned himself in, his subsequent attempted suicide cannot be viewed as relevant evidence of guilt and, therefore, admissible. Furthermore, Cartwright contends suicide is a complex act that, in his case, was caused by not being able to make bond and, as Cartwright maintains, the fact that his own daughter turned on him. The Supreme Court: (1) affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals holding the trial court did not abuse its discretion admitting evidence of the attempted suicide; (2) set forth the framework trial courts must apply in future cases when evidence of a suicide attempt is offered to prove consciousness of guilt; (3) affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals finding the trial court correctly qualified an expert in clinical psychology and allowed her opinion; and (4) affirmed the Court of Appeals determining the expert's testimony did not constitute improper bolstering. View "South Carolina v. Cartwright, III" on Justia Law

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A restaurant in Goose Creek, South Carolina, was robbed by two males wearing ski masks and gloves while carrying a gun and knife, around midnight on Christmas Eve. During the robbery, an employee was shot by one of the robbers. As a result of law enforcement's investigation, including a traced scent trail, DNA evidence found on a ski mask and gun, an executed search warrant, and a tip that Petitioner Donte Brown confessed to committing the crime with Christopher Wilson, Petitioner and Wilson were arrested and charged with robbery, as well as other crimes stemming from the incident. In addition, during the course of their investigation, law enforcement discovered that Wilson was wearing a GPS ankle monitor at the time of the robbery. Wilson's GPS records reflected that he was at the restaurant during the robbery. Wilson pled guilty prior to Petitioner's trial. At Petitioner's trial, the State connected Wilson to Petitioner, through Wilson's GPS records and otherwise. This appeal was centered on Petitioner's challenge that the State failed to authenticate Wilson's GPS records. The South Carolina Supreme Court held that the State failed to properly authenticate the GPS records, and it was error to admit this evidence. Nevertheless, due to the overwhelming evidence of guilt, the Court affirmed the court of appeals in result because this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "South Carolina v. Brown" on Justia Law

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On the night of April 10, 2010, Shannon Scott and his fiancé Rosalyn were asleep at Scott's home. Scott's daughter Shade and three of Rosalyn's daughters were at a party at a teen nightclub with friends. Shade had a history of problems with a girl named Teesha and her friends. Shade and her group left in one vehicle and Teesha and her group followed in an SUV. A third vehicle, a Honda, driven by the deceased, Darrell Niles, followed behind Teesha. As Shade's group was driving away from the club, they stopped at a red traffic light. Shade and two other passengers in the vehicle testified that when Teesha's group stopped at the light, someone got out of Teesha's vehicle and approached their vehicle with a gun. Shade's group ran the red light and Teesha's group pursued them. Shade's group attempted to pull into a police station but the station was closed. One of the girls called her mother Rosalyn and explained they were being chased by Teesha. When Shade's group arrived, they pulled around to the back of the house. Two of Rosalyn's daughters testified they heard a gunshot as they were entering the house. After Scott heard the gunshot, he retrieved his roommate's gun and "ran" toward his front door. Scott fired a "warning shot" at the car, shooting two, possibly three times. Police arriving at the scene found Niles dead from a gunshot. The State indicted Scott for murder. The circuit court granted Scott's motion for immunity under the Protection of Persons and Property Act. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded there was evidence in the record to support Scott's use of deadly force against Niles under the doctrine of self-defense, therefore he was entitled to immunity pursuant to the Act. View "South Carolina v. Scott" on Justia Law

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A municipal police officer responded to a 911 call received through his dispatch center regarding a report of a disabled vehicle. After arriving on the scene, the officer found the vehicle slightly off the roadway in a ditch. While the road was in the city limits, the officer learned the shoulder area of the roadway was beyond the city boundary. While checking that the driver, Respondent Jennifer Alexander, was not in immediate distress, the officer confirmed with dispatch that the disabled vehicle had come to rest a few feet outside of the city limits. Dispatch was informed of the need for a state trooper, as the officer suspected Respondent was intoxicated. The officer remained on the scene, and although Respondent was not handcuffed or otherwise restrained, it is acknowledged that Respondent was not free to leave the scene, as she was detained by the officer. The state trooper arrived quickly and conducted field sobriety tests on Respondent. Respondent was charged by the state trooper with Driving Under the Influence (DUI). The magistrate court granted Respondent's motion to dismiss the case, finding the officer lacked authority to detain Respondent because the vehicle came to rest outside the municipality's limits. On appeal, the State argued the municipal officer had the authority to detain Respondent pursuant to section 17-13-45 because it extended an officer's authority when he is responding "to a distress call or a request for assistance in an adjacent jurisdiction." The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision, which held the statute did not apply to this case. The Court concluded section 17- 13-45 provided the officer with authority to detain Respondent, and therefore reversed the appellate court and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "South Carolina v. Alexander" on Justia Law

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Tyrone King was convicted of murder, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, third-degree assault and battery, and pointing and presenting a firearm. The trial court sentenced King to life imprisonment for murder, a consecutive five year term for possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, and thirty days for third-degree assault and battery. King appealed his murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime convictions, and the court of appeals remanded the case to the trial court to conduct a full Rule 404(b), SCRE, analysis regarding the trial court's admission of certain other bad act evidence. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision. The Supreme Court found the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the unrelated murder charge, and the Supreme Court held this error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court vacated the court appeals' decision to remand to the trial court for proper analysis of the admissibility of the unrelated murder charge, as a remand would be pointless. The Court held King was entitled to a new trial on the charges of murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. King's unappealed convictions for third-degree assault and battery and pointing and presenting a firearm were not affected by the Supreme Court's holding. View "South Carolina v. King" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Roy Jones appealed his convictions for first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor, second-degree CSC with a minor, and two counts of committing a lewd act on a minor. The issues Jones raised on appeal all concerned the admission of testimony from an expert witness qualified in child sexual abuse dynamics. The court of appeals affirmed Jones's convictions. Finding no reversible error, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals, but took the opportunity to clarify the proper inquiry for determining whether a particular subject area falls outside the realm of lay knowledge, thus requiring expert testimony. View "South Carolina v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Petitioner James Simmons Jr. was convicted of criminal sexual conduct (CSC) involving two minors. The minors were Petitioner's twin sons. A key feature of the State's case was the challenged testimony of a pediatrician admitted pursuant to Rule 803(4), SCRE, which provided a hearsay exception for statements made in connection with medical diagnosis or treatment. The court of appeals affirmed, first questioning whether Petitioner's challenge was preserved, and then concluding the pediatrician's testimony was properly admitted. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for a new trial: Petitioner preserved his objection to the pediatrician's purported Rule 803(4), SCRE, testimony, and the admission of the hearsay statements in this case was blatantly improper. "This improper testimony was nothing more than hearsay shrouded in a doctor's white coat, in violation of the South Carolina Rules of Evidence." View "South Carolina v. Simmons" on Justia Law

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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