Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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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

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The State of South Carolina charged Oscar Fortune with murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in connection with a shooting in the parking lot of the Huddle House in Cheraw, South Carolina, on December 23, 2001. Evidence presented at trial demonstrated both Fortune and the victim, Anthony Shields, possessed and fired guns. Fortune claimed Shields shot at him first, and he shot Shields in self-defense. Among the several blatantly improper comments the prosecutor made in his closing argument to the jury in Fortune's murder trial, he claimed, "My job is to present the truth," and said, "if you look in the . . . Code of Laws . . . [, I] have to say what the truth is." "On the other hand," the prosecutor told the jury, "the defense attorneys' jobs are to manipulate the truth. Their job is to shroud the truth. Their job is [to] confuse jurors. Their job is to do whatever they have to -- without regard for the truth." The prosecutor explained that if he—the prosecutor— believes "somebody else did the crime," then he must "dismiss it." "And [if] I know the person has done something that I think the facts show they're guilty of, then I can't [dismiss] it. I have to go forward with it." The jury found Fortune guilty of murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The trial court sentenced Fortune to concurrent prison terms of thirty-seven years for murder and five years for possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Fortune filed an application for post-conviction relief ("PCR"), alleging his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a curative instruction and for failing to move for a mistrial after the assistant solicitor's statements in closing argument. Fortune also claimed the assistant solicitor's misconduct violated his right to due process and his right to counsel. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the prosecutor's improper remarks violated Fortune's rights under the Due Process Clause, and reversed the denial of PCR, and remanded to the court of general sessions for a new trial. View "Fortune v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Four months shy of his eighteenth birthday, petitioner Terrell Smith stabbed his friend Brandon Bennett (the victim) to death. When the victim's father Darryl Bennett walked in on the stabbing, Smith laughed at Bennett's anguish and attempted to stab Bennett to death as well. Following a jury trial, Smith was convicted and sentenced to thirty-five years' imprisonment for murder and thirty years' imprisonment for attempted murder, the sentences to be run concurrently. Despite receiving a sentence longer than the mandatory minimum, Smith argued the statute was unconstitutional because it placed juvenile and adult homicide offenders on equal footing for sentencing purposes, and the Eighth Amendment, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, forbade such a result. In accordance with the overwhelming majority of states that have addressed similar arguments, the South Carolina Court held the mandatory minimum sentence imposed by section 16-3-20(A) of the South Carolina Code (2015) was constitutional as applied to juveniles, and affirmed Smith's convictions and sentences. View "South Carolina v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Korey Love moved at the outset of his PCR hearing to amend his application for relief to add four additional grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. The appeal before the South Carolina Supreme Court focused primarily on one of those additional grounds: that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to a portion of the State's closing argument. The State objected to the amendments, and the PCR court denied Love's motion to amend, finding the State would be unfairly prejudiced by allowing Love to amend his PCR application upon such short notice. The Supreme Court granted Love a writ of certiorari to address whether the PCR court erred by not allowing him to amend his application to add the ground concerning the State's closing argument. And, after review, the Court reversed the PCR court's denial of Love's motion to amend to add that one ground, and remanded this matter for the PCR court to consider the merits of this additional ground. View "Love v. South Carolina" on Justia 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