Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Appellant Michael Simmons was convicted of six counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in the second degree pursuant to section 16-15-405 of the South Carolina Code of Laws. Simmons contended this provision was unconstitutionally overbroad because it criminalized conduct that was not limited to visual representations of actual minors or obscenity, and thus violated the First Amendment. Additionally, Simmons contended the trial court erred in refusing to suppress information gathered pursuant to a search warrant supported by allegedly stale information and in finding defense counsel opened the door to evidence of suspected child pornography. While the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of section 16- 15-405 and the validity of the search warrant, it reversed Simmons' convictions because the trial court erred in finding defense counsel opened the door. The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Simmons" on Justia Law

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In October 2013, a young woman (the victim) was shot by Petitioner Michael Smith in the Five Points area of Columbia, South Carolina. It was undisputed Smith did not intend to harm her. Rather, Smith claimed he was acting in self-defense by shooting at a group of men who had threatened him. Smith missed his intended target, for which he was subsequently charged with the attempted murder of the victim and a host of other gun-related charges. Smith denied the attempted murder charge, implicitly acknowledging he had an express intent to kill the men at whom he was shooting, but asserted his action were justified given his believe he faced an imminent threat to his own life. The State ultimately conceded Smith presented evidence he acted in self- defense, and therefore a jury charge to that effect should have been given. Nonetheless, the State inexplicably requested the trial court charge the jury on implied malice. The law at the time of trial precluded an implied malice jury charge (based on the use of a deadly weapon) when a viable self-defense claim existed. The South Carolina Supreme Court surmised that recognizing this, the State sought to create a new category of implied malice for "felony attempted-murder," with the predicate felony being the felon-in-possession charge. As noted, Smith had already conceded guilt to this charge. Thus, in requesting the new felony attempted-murder charge, which the trial court accepted over Smith's objection, the State essentially circumvented then-existing law expressly precluding an implied malice charge. The Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in accommodating the State's request for an implied malice charge. "The error was compounded, for the State relied on a crime—the so-called crime of felony attempted-murder—which South Carolina has not adopted." Furthermore, the Court held that trial courts could not give an implied malice charge when there has been evidence presented that the defendant acted in self-defense. Smith's convictions were reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Robert Prather was convicted of murder and strong arm robbery. The trial court sentenced Prather to concurrent prison terms of thirty years for murder and ten years for strong arm robbery. Prather appealed, and a divided court of appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari, and after review, held that the trial court did not err in admitting the State's reply testimony. Prather's additional sustaining grounds were without merit. The Court therefore reversed the court of appeals and reinstated Prather's convictions. View "South Carolina v. Prather" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Robert Moore was convicted by jury and sentenced to thirty years’ imprisonment for the attempted murder of Travis Hall. Hall was shot in the head and left for dead in a vehicle in a Taco Bell parking lot following a drug deal gone wrong. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, law enforcement officers found three cell phones, including one later identified as Petitioner's in the area of the driver's floorboard after emergency medical personnel removed Hall from the vehicle. Without obtaining a warrant, the officers removed the cell phones' subscriber identity module (SIM) cards to determine ownership. The officers then obtained a warrant to search the contents of Petitioner's phone. Petitioner's subsequent motion to suppress all evidence acquired from the phone was denied, as the trial court found Petitioner had abandoned his phone. A divided court of appeals' panel affirmed Petitioner's conviction on the basis of inevitable discovery. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. View "South Carolina v. Moore" on Justia Law

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Eric Spears was indicted for trafficking crack cocaine between ten and twenty-eight grams. Spears moved to suppress the evidence of the drugs seized from his person on the ground he was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and Spears was convicted as charged. The trial court sentenced Spears to thirty years in prison. A divided court of appeals reversed Spears' conviction. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision, and reversed, thus upholding Spears' conviction. The Supreme Court found evidence in the record to support the trial court's finding that Spears engaged in a consensual encounter with law enforcement and that Spears' subsequent actions created a reasonable suspicion that he may have been armed and dangerous - justifying law enforcement's Terry frisk that led to the discovery of the offending crack cocaine in Spears' pants. View "South Carolina v. Spears" on Justia Law

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Appellant Terry McCall was convicted of felony DUI. On appeal, he argued the warrantless collection of his blood and urine at the direction of law enforcement pursuant to Section 56-5-2946 of the South Carolina Code (2018) violated the Fourth Amendment. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed because exigent circumstances existed to support the admission of his blood and urine test results. View "South Carolina v. McCall" on Justia Law

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In the course of a gun battle between mutual combatants, a bullet fired at Petitioner Aaron Young Jr. (Young Jr.) missed its intended mark and killed an unintended victim. Young Jr. and his father Aaron Young Sr. (Young Sr.) willingly engaged a rival, Tyrone Robinson, in a residential neighborhood. The battle ended when Robinson shot and killed an unintended victim, an eight-year-old child who was playing in the area. The State charged all three combatants with the murder of the victim. Robinson's murder charge stemmed from a straightforward application of the doctrine of transferred intent. The Youngs' murder charges stemmed from an application of the doctrine of mutual combat. The South Carolina Supreme Court held mutual combat could properly serve as the basis for a murder charge for the death of a non-combatant under the "hand of one is the hand of all" theory of accomplice liability. The Court therefore found the law sanctioned holding Young Jr. responsible for the actions of Robinson in causing the victim's death, and affirmed Young Jr.'s murder conviction and sentence. View "South Carolina v. Young" on Justia Law

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For years, the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services (DPPPS) improperly denied inmates parole based on an incorrect interpretation of the statute setting forth the number of votes required by the parole board. Because DPPPS had a policy of destroying records of parole hearings, it was difficult to determine which inmates were wrongly denied parole. Nevertheless, in 2013, following the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision in Barton v. South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole & Pardon Services, 745 S.E.2d 110 (2013), DPPPS undertook a process to attempt to identify which inmates were improperly denied parole. Petitioner David Rose was one of the inmates who claimed he was improperly denied parole; in Rose's situation, the parole hearing occurred in 2001. The evidence manifestly established Rose received the requisite number of votes in favor of parole in 2001, but remained in jail. Rose persistently sought relief through the years, often in circuit court, where DPPPS contended that Rose had to pursue relief through the administrative process rather than through the judicial process. At the agency level, DPPPS denied relief to Rose because the agency records did not establish the actual vote count from the 2001 hearing, but DPPPS had destroyed the very records it claimed were necessary for Rose to prevail. Following DPPPS's final agency decision, the administrative law court (ALC) granted Rose relief, finding the only evidence as to the parole board's 2001 vote demonstrated Rose was entitled to parole. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, finding the ALC's decision was supported by substantial evidence. View "Rose v. SC Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services" on Justia Law

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John Henry Dial Jr. was charged in magistrates court with three counts of assault and battery in the third degree arising from an incident in which two adults and one minor were sprayed with pepper spray. Dial appeared in court several times before trial, each time without counsel. He pled not guilty and requested a jury trial. The record on appeal did not include transcripts of Dial's pre-trial appearances. The magistrate averred he advised Dial on three separate occasions before trial of his right to be represented by an attorney. Each time, Dial requested to represent himself. The return was silent as to whether the magistrate advised Dial of the dangers of representing himself. Dial testified in his defense and denied spraying any of the victims with pepper spray. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on two counts of assault and battery in the third degree but found Dial not guilty on the count for spraying the minor. The magistrates court sentenced Dial to sixty days in jail. Dial retained counsel to appeal his conviction to the circuit court. He argued, among other things, "[Dial] was not represented by counsel and did not waive his right to counsel." At the hearing in the circuit court, Dial's counsel stated, "There is no evidence in the return or in the transcript that the trial judge properly warned [Dial] under Faretta v. California of the dangers of proceeding pro se." The circuit court affirmed Dial's conviction. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined the record idid not reflect whether the magistrates court obtained a valid waiver of the right to counsel before proceeding to the trial of this unrepresented defendant. Therefore, the Supreme Court remanded to the circuit court for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel. View "South Carolina v. Dial" on Justia Law

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On the evening of April 12, 2013, Petitioner Marquez Glenn was invited to the Spring Grove apartment complex in Taylors, South Carolina by tenants Shelricka Duncan and Kiana Grayson. Once there, Glenn drove one of Shelricka's friends to the store in her car, since she had been drinking and he had not. While Glenn was at the store, Kevin Bruster showed up at the apartment uninvited, heavily intoxicated, forcing his way into the apartment, yelling that he was going to kill one of the residents. When Shelricka attempted to stop him, he hit her, and threatened others with a concealed razor blade. Once outside, Kevin ran off, going to another apartment in the complex where his nephew, Elfonso Bruster, was visiting family. Around the same time, Glenn returned to the complex, but Kiana waived him over to her apartment to warn him of what had happened in his absence. Glenn was approached by the police who reported to the scene as a result of Kevin's altercation. While Glenn was speaking with the officers, he noticed Kevin and Elfonso lurking in the shadows of a nearby apartment building. Glenn retrieved his belongings from Kiana's apartment to depart from Spring Grove. While walking to his car, Kevin and Elfonso abruptly approached him, blocking his way. Words were exchanged, and Kevin struck Glenn in the throat/neck, splashing an alcoholic drink he was carrying into Glenn's eyes. As he wiped the alcohol from his eyes and his vision cleared, Glenn saw Elfonso pulling something from his waistband and heard a female yell "GUN!" At that moment, Glenn pulled out a handgun concealed in his pants pocket and fired three shots in Elfonso's direction. The shots rendered Elfonso paralyzed from the waist down. After the shooting, Glenn got in the car, pulled up to a nearby officer, and told him that he had just been in an altercation with two guys and that Elfonso was bleeding and needed help. Glenn was charged with attempted murder and possession of a weapon during a violent crime. He filed a pretrial motion for statutory immunity under the Protection of Persons and Property Act, which the circuit court denied, and the court of appeals affirmed. After review of the trial court record, the South Carolina Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred in failing to consider the elements of the common law of self-defense and denying Glenn immunity solely on the basis that he did not have a right to be where he was when he was attacked. The matter was remanded for a new immunity hearing. View "South Carolina v. Glenn" on Justia Law