by
Timothy Pulley appealed after he was convicted for trafficking cocaine base (cocaine) of ten grams or more, but less than twenty-eight grams in violation of section 44-53-375(C)(1) of the South Carolina Code (2018). Pulley argued the trial court erred in: (1) charging a permissive inference that knowledge and possession of a substance may be inferred when the substance is found on the property under the defendant's control; (2) failing to charge the jury that the State must prove a complete chain of custody; (3) failing to suppress the cocaine due to an incomplete chain of custody; (4) failing to suppress the cocaine due to an invalid inventory search; (5) finding the cocaine was seized pursuant to a valid search incident to arrest; and (6) failing to require the State to open fully on the law and the facts of the case in closing argument and reply only to arguments of Pulley's defense counsel. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court found the trial court erred in concluding the State established a complete chain of custody. Accordingly, the Court reversed Pulley's conviction and sentence, and remanded for further proceedings. View "South Carolina v. Pulley" on Justia Law

by
Timothy Pulley appealed after he was convicted for trafficking cocaine base (cocaine) of ten grams or more, but less than twenty-eight grams in violation of section 44-53-375(C)(1) of the South Carolina Code (2018). Pulley argued the trial court erred in: (1) charging a permissive inference that knowledge and possession of a substance may be inferred when the substance is found on the property under the defendant's control; (2) failing to charge the jury that the State must prove a complete chain of custody; (3) failing to suppress the cocaine due to an incomplete chain of custody; (4) failing to suppress the cocaine due to an invalid inventory search; (5) finding the cocaine was seized pursuant to a valid search incident to arrest; and (6) failing to require the State to open fully on the law and the facts of the case in closing argument and reply only to arguments of Pulley's defense counsel. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court found the trial court erred in concluding the State established a complete chain of custody. Accordingly, the Court reversed Pulley's conviction and sentence, and remanded for further proceedings. View "South Carolina v. Pulley" on Justia Law

by
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted cross-petitions for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' unpublished decision in South Carolina v. Perez, Op. No. 2015-UP-217 (S.C. Ct. App. filed May 8, 2015), wherein the court determined: (1) the trial court's refusal to admit testimony of a witness' U-visa application was harmless error; (2) the trial court properly admitted evidence of prior bad acts Venancio Diaz Perez committed against another minor; and (3) Perez's sentence was vindictive and a violation of due process. Perez was indicted on charges of criminal sexual conduct with a minor and lewd act on a minor for acts committed on a child ("Minor 1") whom his wife babysat in their residence. Prior to trial, the judge held an in camera hearing to determine whether to allow another child ("Minor 2"), who Perez's wife also babysat, to testify at trial regarding acts of sexual abuse Perez allegedly committed against Minor 2. After hearing testimony from both children, the trial court decided to allow Minor 2 to testify pursuant to South Carolina v. Wallace, 683 S.E.2d 275 (2009). The Supreme Court found that although the failure to admit evidence of a witness' U-visa did not automatically equate to reversible error, it found the trial court's failure to admit evidence of Mother 2's U-visa application particularly significant in this case given: (1) the lack of physical evidence of the alleged abuse; and (2) Minor 1's conflicting testimony. Further, the Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals' credibility analysis inappropriate for appellate review; because there was no physical evidence of the alleged abuse, the case rested solely on credibility determinations. Thus, Perez's opportunity to elicit testimony from the State's witnesses regarding any potential bias was critical to his defense. Therefore, the Court found the Confrontation Clause violation here was not harmless. The matter was reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Perez" on Justia Law

by
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted cross-petitions for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' unpublished decision in South Carolina v. Perez, Op. No. 2015-UP-217 (S.C. Ct. App. filed May 8, 2015), wherein the court determined: (1) the trial court's refusal to admit testimony of a witness' U-visa application was harmless error; (2) the trial court properly admitted evidence of prior bad acts Venancio Diaz Perez committed against another minor; and (3) Perez's sentence was vindictive and a violation of due process. Perez was indicted on charges of criminal sexual conduct with a minor and lewd act on a minor for acts committed on a child ("Minor 1") whom his wife babysat in their residence. Prior to trial, the judge held an in camera hearing to determine whether to allow another child ("Minor 2"), who Perez's wife also babysat, to testify at trial regarding acts of sexual abuse Perez allegedly committed against Minor 2. After hearing testimony from both children, the trial court decided to allow Minor 2 to testify pursuant to South Carolina v. Wallace, 683 S.E.2d 275 (2009). The Supreme Court found that although the failure to admit evidence of a witness' U-visa did not automatically equate to reversible error, it found the trial court's failure to admit evidence of Mother 2's U-visa application particularly significant in this case given: (1) the lack of physical evidence of the alleged abuse; and (2) Minor 1's conflicting testimony. Further, the Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals' credibility analysis inappropriate for appellate review; because there was no physical evidence of the alleged abuse, the case rested solely on credibility determinations. Thus, Perez's opportunity to elicit testimony from the State's witnesses regarding any potential bias was critical to his defense. Therefore, the Court found the Confrontation Clause violation here was not harmless. The matter was reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Perez" on Justia Law

by
After Randy Horton won this action seeking the production of documents under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the circuit court awarded him attorneys' fees at a rate of $100 per hour. On appeal, the South Carolina Supreme Court addressed solely the question of whether the court abused its discretion in selecting that hourly rate. "When a trial court's decision is made on a sound evidentiary basis and is adequately explained with specific findings—as the law requires—we defer to the trial court's discretion. Here, however, there is no evidence in the record that supports the circuit court's reduction of the hourly rate." Rather than remand, the Court reversed the trial court and awarded Horton $35,611.50 in attorneys' fees and $1,096.56 in costs. View "Horton v. Jasper County School District" on Justia Law

by
The circuit court ruled Appellant Kim Murphy was not qualified to be a candidate for election to a Richland County seat on the District 5 Richland-Lexington School Board of Trustees (School Board). The circuit court based this ruling on its conclusion that Murphy resided in Lexington County. Upon review, the South Carolina Supreme Court first found the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over Respondents' declaratory judgment action challenging Murphy's qualifications. Second, the Court held there was probative evidence in the record supporting the circuit court's conclusion that Murphy resided in Lexington County. Therefore, the Court affirmed the circuit court's ruling that Murphy is not qualified to be a candidate for election to a Richland County seat on the School Board. View "Gantt v. Selph" on Justia Law

by
Sentry Select Insurance Company brought a legal malpractice lawsuit in federal district court against the lawyer it hired to defend its insured in an automobile accident case. The federal court certified two questions of South Carolina law to the South Carolina Supreme Court pertaining to: (1) whether an insurer may maintain a direct malpractice action against counsel hired to represent its insured where the insurance company has a duty to defend; and (2) whether a legal malpractice claim may be assigned to a third-party who was responsible for payment of legal fees and any judgment incurred as a result of the litigation in which the alleged malpractice arose. The South Carolina Court answered the first question "yes:" "However, we will not place an attorney in a 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, for we will not permit the attorney's duty to the client 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." As to question two, the Supreme Court declined to answer the question: "We are satisfied that our answer to question one renders the second question not 'determinative of the cause then pending in the certifying court,' and thus it is not necessary for us to answer question two." View "Sentry Select Insurance v. Maybank Law Firm" on Justia Law

by
Jerome Buckson and Tiffany Foggie lived together in Foggie's apartment until January 2006. At approximately three o'clock in the morning on Monday, January 30, 2006, Buckson entered the apartment through a kitchen window, and proceeded up the stairs to Foggie's bedroom. The door to the bedroom was closed and locked. Foggie and Buckson had been yelling to one another from the time he was outside, and Foggie told Buckson to leave. Instead, he forced the door open to find another man in the room. After a brief struggle, Foggie was shot. Buckson fled the apartment and called 911. He told the 911 operator the man shot at him, and that he heard other shots as he fled. He later learned Foggie was dead from a gunshot wound. The State charged Buckson with murder and first degree burglary. The jury found Buckson not guilty of murder. As to the burglary, the State presented evidence that Buckson no longer lived in the apartment on the night Foggie died, and Buckson's trial counsel presented evidence that he did. The jury found Buckson guilty of first degree burglary. The trial court sentenced him to twenty years in prison. The court of appeals affirmed. The post-conviction relief (PCR) court granted Buckson relief and ordered a new trial. The State appealed, arguing no probative evidence supported the findings of the PCR court. The court of appeals reversed the PCR court. The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, reversed the court of appeals. At his PCR trial, Buckson presented the testimony of five witnesses he claimed trial counsel should have called at the criminal trial. However, some of the testimony was new and was not presented to the jury. Based on this testimony, the PCR court found trial counsel's failure to call the PCR witnesses at the criminal trial was unreasonable. Counsel articulated specific reasons he did not call the witnesses. The State used the words "strategy" and "strategic decisions" in isolated places in its brief to the court of appeals, but the Supreme Court found those issues should have been raised in the Statement of Issues on Appeal. "While we seek to be flexible interpreting issue statements, ... no point will be considered which is not set forth in the statement of the issues on appeal." In addition, the State's arguments in the body of the brief related to the sufficiency of the evidence, not strategy, and the State did not cite any legal authority on the issue of strategy. View "Buckson v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

by
Jerome Buckson and Tiffany Foggie lived together in Foggie's apartment until January 2006. At approximately three o'clock in the morning on Monday, January 30, 2006, Buckson entered the apartment through a kitchen window, and proceeded up the stairs to Foggie's bedroom. The door to the bedroom was closed and locked. Foggie and Buckson had been yelling to one another from the time he was outside, and Foggie told Buckson to leave. Instead, he forced the door open to find another man in the room. After a brief struggle, Foggie was shot. Buckson fled the apartment and called 911. He told the 911 operator the man shot at him, and that he heard other shots as he fled. He later learned Foggie was dead from a gunshot wound. The State charged Buckson with murder and first degree burglary. The jury found Buckson not guilty of murder. As to the burglary, the State presented evidence that Buckson no longer lived in the apartment on the night Foggie died, and Buckson's trial counsel presented evidence that he did. The jury found Buckson guilty of first degree burglary. The trial court sentenced him to twenty years in prison. The court of appeals affirmed. The post-conviction relief (PCR) court granted Buckson relief and ordered a new trial. The State appealed, arguing no probative evidence supported the findings of the PCR court. The court of appeals reversed the PCR court. The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, reversed the court of appeals. At his PCR trial, Buckson presented the testimony of five witnesses he claimed trial counsel should have called at the criminal trial. However, some of the testimony was new and was not presented to the jury. Based on this testimony, the PCR court found trial counsel's failure to call the PCR witnesses at the criminal trial was unreasonable. Counsel articulated specific reasons he did not call the witnesses. The State used the words "strategy" and "strategic decisions" in isolated places in its brief to the court of appeals, but the Supreme Court found those issues should have been raised in the Statement of Issues on Appeal. "While we seek to be flexible interpreting issue statements, ... no point will be considered which is not set forth in the statement of the issues on appeal." In addition, the State's arguments in the body of the brief related to the sufficiency of the evidence, not strategy, and the State did not cite any legal authority on the issue of strategy. View "Buckson v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

by
This cross-appeal primarily concerned the amount of compensation owed to Petitioner-respondent Edward Sullivan as personal representative (PR) of Marion Kay's estate. Sullivan filed a petition to settle the estate and sought probate court approval for his commissions as PR together with fees and costs. In response, Respondents-petitioners Martha Brown and Mary Moses, cousins of the deceased and two of multiple beneficiaries under the will, challenged his compensation as excessive, and the probate court agreed, reducing Sullivan's commissions, disallowing certain fees and costs, and awarding attorney's fees to Brown and Moses. The circuit court affirmed, and both sides appealed. In a 2-1 opinion, the court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the probate court. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' decision to uphold the award of $51,300 in commissions for Sullivan's services as personal representative and the determination that Brown and Moses were responsible for their own attorney's fees. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' conclusion that Sullivan is not entitled to recover necessary expenses, including reasonable attorney's fees, incurred at the settlement hearing under section S.C. Code 62-3-720, and remanded this case back to the probate court for that determination. View "Kay v. Sullivan" on Justia Law