Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Robert Osbey pled guilty to criminal charges without counsel. He later applied for post-conviction relief (PCR) on the ground he did not waive his right to counsel. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the denial of his PCR claim because the record did not reflect a valid waiver of Osbey's right to counsel. In particular, the Court found the plea court did not ensure Osbey was aware of the dangers of self-representation. This case was remanded to the court of general sessions for a new trial. View "Osbey v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Sentry Select Insurance Company brought a legal malpractice lawsuit in federal district court against the lawyer it hired to defend an insured in an automobile accident case. The district court requested the South Carolina Supreme Court answer whether, under South Carolina law: (1) an insurer may maintain a direct malpractice action against counsel hired to represent its insured where the insurance company had a duty to defend; and (2) whether a legal malpractice claim be assigned to a third-party who is responsible for payment of legal fees and any judgment incurred as a result of the litigation in which the alleged malpractice arose. The Court responded in the affirmative to (1), reasserting an attorney would not be placed in 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, because the attorney's duty to the client would not be permitted 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. The Supreme Court declined to answer the second question posed. View "Sentry Select Insurance v. Maybank Law Firm" on Justia Law

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In this case, Petitioner Daniel Herrera was convicted of "trafficking in" (meaning, possessing) between ten and 100 pounds of marijuana, which carried a substantial term of imprisonment. The penalty for possessing fewer than ten pounds of marijuana was less severe. Moreover, drug trafficking was classified as a violent and serious crime, affecting Herrera's parole eligibility. At trial, Herrera contended that he did not knowingly possess any marijuana. Moreover, Herrera disputed the weight of the marijuana, allegedly, ten pounds, 2.78 ounces, by challenging: (1) the qualifications of the State's marijuana expert, police officer Jared Hunnicutt; and (2) the accuracy of the purported weight of the marijuana. Ultimately, Herrera's challenges were unsuccessful, and following his conviction, the court of appeals affirmed the admission of Hunnicutt's testimony regarding the weight of the marijuana in a summary unpublished opinion. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed, finding it was an abuse of discretion to permit Hunnicutt to testify to the weight of the marijuana. Accordingly, the matter was remanded to the trial court for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Herrera" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Sarah Cardwell appealed her convictions of two counts of unlawful conduct towards a child and two counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, arguing the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress a video file taken from her laptop computer. Computer technician David Marsh was repairing Petitioner's laptop when Chief Ron Douglas of the Johnsonville Police Department stopped by Marsh's home to deliver packages. While Marsh was taking the packages to his garage, Chief Douglas saw an image go across the computer screen of a naked, male child wearing a pink bra. At Chief Douglas's request, Marsh found the video from which the image had been taken, and the two men watched a minute of the video showing Petitioner's daughter, son, and then-boyfriend, Michael Cardwell, dancing naked. Petitioner could not be seen in the video; however, Marsh was able to identify Petitioner as the individual behind the camera directing the children's movements based on her voice. Upon Chief Douglas's instruction, Marsh copied the video to a disc. Chief Douglas instructed Marsh to secure the laptop, and contacted the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office ("GCSO") to take over the investigation. GCSO took possession of the disc and laptop and obtained a search warrant for these items; a grand jury would indict Petitioner on child pornography charges. Petitioner contended the Court of Appeals erred in upholding the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress the video file seized from her laptop computer. "The fact that Marsh would not have seen the image without Chief Douglas's instruction is irrelevant because there was nothing unlawful about Chief Douglas bringing the still image to Marsh's attention since it was in Chief Douglas's plain view." The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed Cardwell's conviction. View "South Carolina v. Cardwell" on Justia Law

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Daryl Snow appealed his commitment as a sexually violent predator under the Sexually Violent Predator Act. He argued his diagnosis of Other Specified Personality Disorder was legally insufficient to meet the constitutional and statutory requirements for commitment under the Act, and thus the trial court erred when it denied his motions for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). The court of appeals affirmed his commitment in an unpublished opinion. Finding no reversible error, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals. The Supreme Court determined the diagnosis was legally sufficient to satisfy the second element of the Sexually Violent Predator Act definition, and also, the State presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate Snow's diagnosis made him likely to engage in acts of sexual violence and that he had serious difficulty controlling his behavior. View "In the Matter of Snow" on Justia Law

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Edward Sloan and the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation (collectively, Appellants) filed suit alleging Act 275 of 2016 violated article III, section 17 of the South Carolina Constitution (the One Subject Rule). Appellants claimed Act 275's title was insufficient and its provisions related to more than one subject, thus violating the Rule. The trial court dismissed the complaint on numerous grounds. The South Carolina Supreme Court did not address all of these issues on certiorari review, but elected to resolve the appeal on the merits. While it has not hesitated to strike down legislation that violates the One Subject Rule, the Supreme Court has also respected the separation of powers doctrine and upheld legislation where a close question is presented. The constitutional challenge to Act 275 did not present a close question—Act 275 manifestly complied with the One Subject Rule. The trial court's dismissal of the complaint was affirmed. View "SC Public Interest Foundation v. SC House" on Justia 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