Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Petitioner Andrew Looper challenged the court of appeals' dismissal of his appeal of an interlocutory circuit court order. Petitioner was charged with driving under the influence (DUI) after being pulled over by police for speeding. At a pretrial hearing before a magistrate, Petitioner moved to suppress evidence of field sobriety tests and breath analysis, arguing they were the fruits of an unconstitutionally prolonged traffic stop. The magistrate granted Petitioner's motion to suppress the evidence and dismissed the DUI charge. The State appealed to the circuit court, which held the magistrate erred in granting Petitioner's motion. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Thereafter, Petitioner appealed to the court of appeals, which analogized the circuit court's order to an interlocutory order denying a motion to suppress evidence. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal, finding Petitioner was not "aggrieved" in a legal sense because he had not been convicted and sentenced. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed, finding that a party may appeal a decision not amounting to a final judgment only where provided by statute. View "South Carolina v. Looper" on Justia Law

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Deangelo Mitchell was arrested for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and was released on a $25,000 surety bond. Subsequently, Mitchell was arrested for trafficking in cocaine, distribution of cocaine, and involuntary manslaughter; bond was set at $400,000. Mitchell's bonds were consolidated for all his pending charges and the circuit court set a $150,000 surety bond. Bond conditions included a standard good behavior condition, plus house arrest and electronic monitoring. AA Ace Bail by Frances and Palmetto Surety Corporation (collectively, Bond Company) executed the $150,000 surety bond and Mitchell was released. Thereafter, the State moved to revoke Mitchell's bond on the basis that Mitchell blatantly disregarded the house arrest and electronic monitoring provisions of his bond and thus, violated the "good behavior" requirement of the bond contract. Mitchell appeared at the revocation hearing and testified that he was never informed of the conditions of his bond and that he was never informed he was violating a condition of his bond. The circuit court found Mitchell's claims of ignorance as to the conditions of his bond were not credible and revoked the bond for repeated violations of the terms and conditions of the bond. Mitchell was placed in custody until he pled guilty and was sentenced to a term of incarceration. The State filed a Notice of Forfeited Recognizance seeking estreatment of the bond posted by Bond Company, and the circuit court ultimately issued an order estreating $75,000 of the $150,000 bond. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' holding that the bond estreatment was proper and that the amount of forfeiture remitted was not arbitrary or capricious. View "South Carolina v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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In 2010, South Carolina indicted Anthony Briggs for criminal sexual conduct with a minor in the first degree and lewd act upon a child. The victim testified Briggs touched her "private" with his "private" and with his mouth, and the jury watched video of two forensic interviews in which the victim explained what happened. Using a special interrogatory verdict form, the jury found Briggs performed "anal intercourse," "cunnilingus," and "other intrusion" on the victim. The trial court sentenced Briggs to life in prison. The court of appeals affirmed. Briggs then filed this action for post-conviction relief (PCR). He claimed, among other things, his trial counsel was ineffective in permitting the forensic interviewer to give opinion testimony that she believed the victim's accusations to be true. The PCR court granted relief, vacated the convictions, and remanded to the court of general sessions for a new trial. Finding no reversible error in that ruling, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. View "Briggs v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Raheem King of the attempted murder and armed robbery of a Charleston cab driver and the related charge of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. The trial judge sentenced King to an aggregate term of thirty-five years' imprisonment for armed robbery and the weapon charge, and a concurrent term of ten years' imprisonment for attempted murder. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed King's convictions for armed robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, but reversed and remanded King's conviction for attempted murder. The Court of Appeals found the trial court: (1) erred in its jury charge, "[a] specific intent to kill is not an element of attempted murder but it must be a general intent to commit serious bodily harm"; (2) erred in admitting the hearsay testimony of an investigating officer; (3) correctly charged the jury the permissive inference of malice from the use of a deadly weapon; and (4) did not abuse his discretion in allowing the State to publish to the jury a recording of a phone call made by King while he was incarcerated. The South Carolina Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals' decision to affirm King's convictions for armed robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime and to reverse and remand King's conviction for attempted murder. Yet, the Court clarified that the offense of attempted murder, as codified in section 16-3-29 of the South Carolina Code and viewed in its entirety, required a specific intent to kill. Furthermore, the Court concluded that a police officer’s testimony at trial should not have been admitted as it constituted inadmissible hearsay regardless of the fact that it was offered by the State to explain the police investigation. However, like the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court found the admission of this testimony constituted harmless error. In contrast to the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held the trial judge erred in admitting the recording of King's detention center phone call. Nevertheless, the admission of the recording also constituted harmless error. View "South Carolina v. King" on Justia Law

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Shawn Wyatt appealed his convictions for attempting to furnish contraband to a prisoner and possession with intent to distribute cocaine, cocaine base, and marijuana. He argued the trial court erred by not suppressing two eyewitness identifications. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision not to suppress the primary identification. The Court found, however, the police identification procedure was not unnecessarily suggestive, and thus the trial court should have addressed the suppression question only under the first prong of Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 188 (1972). As to the other identification, the Court found no error and affirmed Wyatt's convictions. View "South Carolina v. Wyatt" on Justia Law

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Farid Mangal was convicted of criminal sexual conduct with a minor, lewd act upon a child, and incest. After his convictions were affirmed, Mangal filed an action for post-conviction relief (PCR), arguing his trial counsel was ineffective for not objecting to improper bolstering testimony. The PCR court refused to rule on the improper bolstering issue because the court found Mangal did not raise it in his PCR application or at the PCR hearing. The court of appeals reversed, finding the improper bolstering issue was raised to the PCR court. The court of appeals then proceeded to grant PCR on the merits of the issue. In reversing the court of appeals, the South Carolina Supreme Court determined the court of appeals relied on several additional portions of the testimony at issue here that was not revealed to the PCR court at any point during the PCR hearing. With regard to the PCR court's exercise of discretion in refusing to address the improper bolstering issue, Mangal filed a Rule 59(e) motion asking the PCR court to consider the claim. The PCR court denied the motion, finding "no testimonial evidence . . . was presented in support of these allegations." The South Carolina Supreme Court agreed with the PCR court and reinstated its order. View "Mangal v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Petitioners South Carolina Public Interest Foundation and Edward Sloan, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, filed a declaratory judgment action against Respondents the South Carolina Department of Transportation ("SCDOT") and John Walsh, Deputy Secretary of Transportation for Engineering of SCDOT. Petitioners sought a declaration that SCDOT's inspection of three privately owned bridges violated sections 5 and 11 of article X of the South Carolina Constitution, which Petitioners asserted prohibit the expenditure of public funds for a private purpose. The trial court granted Respondents' motion for summary judgment, finding: Petitioners lacked standing; the controversy was moot and did not fall under any of the exceptions to the mootness doctrine; and Respondents' actions were not ultra vires or unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded, after review: (1) Petitioners established public importance standing; (2) the Court of Appeals erred in concluding this matter was not justiciable because Respondents admitted their conduct was wrongful; (3) Respondents' inspection of the privately owned bridges was unconstitutional because it contravened the constitutional requirement that the expenditure of public funds serve a public purpose. The Court concluded Respondents' conduct was unconstitutional and ultra vires, and reversed the Court of Appeals' judgment. View "South Carolina Public Interest Foundation v. SCDOT" on Justia Law

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Renwick Mose appealed the dismissal of his application for post-conviction relief. The application was denied for being three days past the statute of limitations period ended, but Mose contended he delivered the application to prison authorities within the statutory period. Mose sought reversal of the PCR judge's ruling so that he could receive a hearing on the merits of his application. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court concluded the PCR judge erred in summarily dismissing Mose's PCR application as untimely, reversed and remanded for a hearing on the merits. View "Mose v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case arose from classifications contained in South Carolina's domestic violence statutes. Specifically, the classifications provided that only "Household member[s]," defined as, inter alia, a "male and female who are cohabiting or formerly have cohabited," are protected under the statutes. Petitioner challenged these classifications, arguing they unconstitutionally exclude unmarried, cohabiting or formerly cohabiting, same-sex couples from the protection of the domestic violence statutes. Petitioner asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to declare that the subsections which exclude same-sex couples, S.C. Code Ann. 16-25-10(3)(d) (effective June 4, 2015), of the Domestic Violence Reform Act, and S.C. Code Ann. 20-4-20(b)(iv) (effective June 4, 2015), of the Protection from Criminal Domestic Violence Act (collectively "the Acts"), violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court agreed the definitional subsections at issue offend the Equal Protection Clause, and, therefore, struck the subsection from each Act. View "Doe v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Farid Mangal was convicted of criminal sexual conduct with a minor, lewd act upon a child, and incest. After his convictions were affirmed, Mangal filed this action for post-conviction relief (PCR), arguing trial counsel was ineffective for not objecting to improper bolstering testimony. The PCR court refused to rule on the improper bolstering issue because the court found Mangal did not raise it in his PCR application or at the PCR hearing. The court of appeals reversed, finding the improper bolstering issue was raised to the PCR court. The court of appeals then proceeded to grant PCR on the merits of the issue before it was considered by the PCR court. Finding the appellate court erred in its conclusion, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the PCR court's order. View "Mangal v. South Carolina" on Justia Law