Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Vladimir Pantovich killed his former girlfriend, Sheila McPherson, with a baseball bat during an argument in his home. He hit her with the bat more than ten times, breaking ribs, damaging internal organs, and causing lacerations on her head that exposed her bare skull. Pantovich wrapped her dead body in a blanket, tied it with a rope, obscured her head with a garbage bag, and put the body and the bat in the trunk of his car. He then left his home in Georgetown County and drove toward his son's home in Taylorsville, North Carolina. On the way, he called his son to reveal what he had done. The son alerted law enforcement, and an officer stopped Pantovich as he approached Taylorsville. McPherson's body was still in the trunk in the same condition. At trial in 2008, he admitted he beat McPherson to death, but claimed he did so in self-defense. In this post-conviction relief (PCR) matter, the issue presented to the South Carolina Supreme Court for consideration centered on South Carolina's longstanding good character charge, and whether the PCR court erred when it found appellate counsel for Pantovich ineffective for failing to raise a meritorious issue on direct appeal. The PCR court granted relief based on appellate counsel's failure to argue that the trial court erred by refusing to give such a charge, which counsel had requested at trial. While the Supreme Court agreed that a portion of the charge Pantovich requested is improper, it nonetheless affirmed because of the retrospective nature of PCR review. View "Pantovich v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Antrell Felder of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Following a hearing on Felder's application for post-conviction relief ("PCR"), the PCR court issued an order denying and dismissing Felder's application. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded the PCR court erred in determining trial counsel was not ineffective. Accordingly, it reversed the PCR court's decision and remanded this matter to the court of general sessions for a new trial. View "Felder v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the post-conviction relief (PCR) court's denial of relief to Derrick Fishburne. Because the PCR court's order contained no findings of fact as to one of Fishburne's primary PCR claims, the South Carolina Supreme Court remanded this matter to the PCR court for the PCR court to issue an order setting forth adequate findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding Fishburne's unaddressed PCR claim. In doing so, the Court stressed that PCR orders had to be prepared in compliance with section 17-27-80 of the South Carolina Code (2014) and Rule 52(a) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. View "Fishburne v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Shane Burdette shot and killed Evan Tyner (Victim). Victim died from a single shotgun pellet wound to the back of his neck. After the shooting, Burdette gave several inconsistent statements to law enforcement. The State's theory of the case and Burdette's theory of the case were substantially different. The State claimed murder; Burdette claimed accident. Burdette was indicted and tried for murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Over Burdette's objection, the trial court charged the jury that it could infer the element of malice from the use of a deadly weapon. The jury convicted Burdette of the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The court of appeals affirmed Burdette's conviction, holding that although the trial court erred in giving the inferred malice jury instruction, Burdette suffered no prejudice. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Burdette's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision. After review, the Supreme Court found the trial court's erroneous jury instruction was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. It therefore reversed and remanded for a new trial on the offenses of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The Court also held, regardless of the evidence presented at trial, a trial court would no longer instruct a jury that malice may be inferred from the use of a deadly weapon. View "South Carolina v. Burdette" on Justia Law

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James Cross was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor and committing a lewd act on a minor. The trial court sentenced Cross to an aggregate prison term of twenty-five years. Cross appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in denying Cross's motion to bifurcate his trial, reversed the appellate court, and remanded for a new trial. Cross's conviction for a specific offense under section S.C. Code section 23-3-430(C) was admissible to prove the prior-conviction element of first-degree CSC with a minor. Therefore, the State should have been allowed to introduce the conviction. However, the Court concluded the probative value of the conviction, at the time it was introduced, was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to Cross. The trial court's limiting instruction did not overcome the resulting prejudice. Therefore, it was error by the trial court to refuse Cross's request that the trial be bifurcated. View "South Carolina v. Cross" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Anthony Martin was convicted of armed robbery and criminal conspiracy in Aiken County, South Carolina. Petitioner alleged in his PCR application that his trial attorneys were ineffective for failing to elicit testimony from Petitioner's mother regarding the specific timeline of Petitioner's purported alibi: Petitioner contended he was in Atlanta, Georgia, at the time of the robbery in South Carolina. Relief was denied because Petitioner failed to present his mother's testimony at the PCR hearing regarding the alibi defense. Ordinarily, the absence of a purported alibi witness's testimony is fatal, but in this case, counsel admitted they were aware of the specific timeline furnished by the mother, yet failed to introduce it. That testimony, if presented and believed, would have made it impossible for Petitioner to be in Aiken County at the time of the robbery. The South Carolina Supreme Court therefore granted post-conviction relief and remanded for a new trial. View "Martin v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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A jury found Kenneth Campbell met the statutory definition of a sexually violent predator (SVP) under South Carolina's SVP Act, S.C. Code Ann. sections 44-48-10 to -170 (2018). Campbell appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed. On petition of certiorari, Campbell contended the court of appeals erred in affirming his civil commitment because the State inappropriately impeached the credibility of Campbell's expert witness by introducing evidence of a recent arrest warrant for an unrelated sex offender whom the expert had opined was unlikely to reoffend. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the admission of testimony about a mere arrest warrant of an unrelated individual in a collateral matter unduly prejudiced Campbell and, therefore, reversed and remanded for a new commitment proceeding. View "In the Matter of the Care & Treatment of Campbell" on Justia Law

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Jalann Williams was convicted for murder, shooting and killing his victim with an unlawfully-possessed pistol defendant intentionally brought to an illegal drug transaction. Williams argued the trial court erred in refusing to charge the jury with the law of self-defense. The South Carolina Supreme Court found defendant was at fault in bringing on the violence. View "South Carolina v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The State of South Carolina petitioned for certiorari review of the Court of Appeals' decision in South Carolina v. Andrews, 818 S.E.2d 227 (Ct. App. 2018). After a fatal shooting at Respondent's home, Respondent was indicted for murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Respondent moved to dismiss the charges pursuant to the Protection of Persons and Property Act on the ground he shot the victim in self-defense. However, another eyewitness testified the victim was attempting to peacefully leave Respondent's home and that Respondent followed the victim out of the home, shooting him on the porch. Additional forensic evidence was presented at the hearing, but it did not conclusively support either version of events. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's denial of immunity, but reversed Respondent's convictions based on a separate evidentiary issue. To the extent the Court of Appeals relied upon the portion of South Carolina v. Curry, 752 S.E.2d 263 (2013). relating to the directed verdict procedural posture in affirming the circuit court's denial of immunity in this case, the South Carolina Supreme Court vacated that portion of the Court of Appeals' opinion and affirmed as modified. View "South Carolina v. Andrews" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Gerald Williams was convicted of three counts of attempted murder related to his alleged shooting into an occupied mobile home where he knew his intended victim was present, but did not realize two other individuals were also present. Under the common law, transferred intent “makes a whole crime out of two halves by joining the intent to harm one victim with the actual harm caused to another.” Normally, transferred intent applies to general-intent crimes. However, attempted murder is a specific-intent crime in South Carolina, and the South Carolina Supreme Court had not yet addressed whether transferred intent could supply the requisite mens rea for such a crime. Because this case was tried without objection as a general-intent crime, the Supreme Court found the doctrine of transferred intent applied in this instance. The Court declined to address the applicability of transferred intent to a specific-intent crime such as attempted murder and vacate the portion of the court of appeals' opinion dealing with this issue. The Court found in light of the facts of this case, there was no error in failing to charge the jury on the lesser-included offense of assault and battery in the first degree (AB-1st). The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals as modified. View "South Carolina v. Williams" on Justia Law