Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

by
At age 13, petitioner Conrad Slocumb kidnapped and sexually assaulted a teacher before shooting her in the face and head five times and leaving her for dead. Three years later, following his guilty plea for the first set of crimes, he escaped from custody and raped and robbed another woman in a brutal manner before being apprehended again. For these two sets of crimes, Slocumb received an aggregate 130-year sentence due to the individual sentences being run consecutively. Before the South Carolina Supreme Court, Slocumb argued an aggregate 130-year sentence for multiple offenses committed on multiple dates violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The South Carolina Court acknowledged the “ostensible merit in Slocumb's argument, for it is arguably a reasonable extension of Graham [v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010)] and Miller [v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012)]. Yet precedent dictates that only the Supreme Court may extend and enlarge the protections guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Once the Supreme Court has drawn a line in the sand, the authority to redraw that line and broaden federal constitutional protections is limited to our nation's highest court.” Because the decision to expand the reach and protections of the Eighth Amendment lay exclusively with the Supreme Court, the South Carolina Supreme Court felt constrained to deny Slocumb relief. View "South Carolina v. Slocumb" on Justia Law

by
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Dennis Cervantes-Pavon's petition for a writ of certiorari to determine whether the court of appeals erred in affirming the circuit court's denial of immunity from prosecution under the Protection of Persons and Property Act. Cervantes-Pavon was indicted for murdering Raymond Muniz by stabbing him with a sheetrock saw at their workplace. Both men worked on a construction project at the Belk department store in Mount Pleasant. Prior to trial, Cervantes-Pavon moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing he was immune from prosecution under the Act. At the hearing, construction superintendent Herbie Evans testified he became aware of a problem between Muniz and Cervantes-Pavon when Cervantes-Pavon approached Evans and stated Muniz was picking on him. Evans spoke with Muniz and informed him that he would not tolerate any conflicts between employees and would send them home if one occurred. Evans did not witness any interactions between Muniz and Cervantes-Pavon on that day. Jose Somosa testified he worked with Muniz and Cervantes-Pavon on the Belk project. Somosa recalled that the day before the stabbing, Muniz had removed his shirt and attempted to fight Cervantes-Pavon, who refused. The next day, Somosa was working as Cervantes-Pavon's helper on the project by staying on the ground while Cervantes-Pavon worked on a ladder. According to Somosa, each time Muniz walked by Cervantes-Pavon, Muniz would say the two men should fight and Cervantes-Pavon would respond that he didn't want any trouble. Animosity between the two eventually erupted with Cervantes-Pavon stabbing Muniz. The State argued the issue was a "clear question of fact" regarding selfdefense, noting Cervantes-Pavon stabbed Muniz when Muniz was unarmed. The State contended the evidence presented did not rise to a preponderance of the evidence that Cervantes-Pavon acted in self-defense. The circuit court denied Cervantes-Pavon's motion. The court noted the Act grants immunity if a movant proves the factors by a preponderance of the evidence. Because there were erroneous bases on which to deny immunity, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's decision and remanded for a new hearing. View "South Carolina v. Cervantes-Pavon" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
On the night of April 10, 2010, Shannon Scott and his fiancé Rosalyn were asleep at Scott's home. Scott's daughter Shade and three of Rosalyn's daughters were at a party at a teen nightclub with friends. Shade had a history of problems with a girl named Teesha and her friends. Shade and her group left in one vehicle and Teesha and her group followed in an SUV. A third vehicle, a Honda, driven by the deceased, Darrell Niles, followed behind Teesha. As Shade's group was driving away from the club, they stopped at a red traffic light. Shade and two other passengers in the vehicle testified that when Teesha's group stopped at the light, someone got out of Teesha's vehicle and approached their vehicle with a gun. Shade's group ran the red light and Teesha's group pursued them. Shade's group attempted to pull into a police station but the station was closed. One of the girls called her mother Rosalyn and explained they were being chased by Teesha. When Shade's group arrived, they pulled around to the back of the house. Two of Rosalyn's daughters testified they heard a gunshot as they were entering the house. After Scott heard the gunshot, he retrieved his roommate's gun and "ran" toward his front door. Scott fired a "warning shot" at the car, shooting two, possibly three times. Police arriving at the scene found Niles dead from a gunshot. The State indicted Scott for murder. The circuit court granted Scott's motion for immunity under the Protection of Persons and Property Act. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded there was evidence in the record to support Scott's use of deadly force against Niles under the doctrine of self-defense, therefore he was entitled to immunity pursuant to the Act. View "South Carolina v. Scott" on Justia Law