Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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Justin Jamal Warner was convicted by jury of murder, attempted armed robbery, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Warner's petition for a writ of certiorari to address: (1) whether the trial court was correct to deny Warner's motion to suppress cell-site location information (CSLI) seized from his cell phone service provider; and (2) whether an out-of-court viewing by Warner's probation officer of a crime-scene video and the officer's identification of Warner as the man in the video required a hearing under Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 188 (1972). The Supreme Court found the trial court correctly ruled the identification made from the video did not require a Biggers hearing. As to the CSLI, the Court held the warrant the trial court found invalid because the warrant sought information stored in another state was not - at least for that reason - invalid. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals as to the Biggers issue and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings as to Warner's motion to suppress CSLI. View "South Carolina v. Warner" on Justia Law

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On January 2, 2015, James Daniels entered the Sunhouse convenience store at the intersection of Highway 905 and Red Bluff Road in Longs, South Carolina, on the pretense of buying a bottle of lemonade. James' actual purpose was to scout the store for Jerome Jenkins, Jr. and James' brother McKinley Daniels to rob it. Minutes after James left the store, Jenkins and McKinley entered, masked and armed with pistols. They first encountered Jimmy McZeke, who worked at the store. Jenkins and McKinley fired at McZeke, but both missed. McZeke then ran into the bathroom at the back of the store and locked the door. Jenkins followed McZeke and shot at him through the bathroom door. The gunshots shattered several glass bottles, and the shattered glass cut McZeke on his head. McKinley stayed at the front of the store where the store clerk, Bala Paruchuri, stood behind the cash register. McKinley pointed his pistol at Paruchuri, went behind the counter, and robbed Paruchuri of the money in the register. Jenkins quickly returned to the front of the store. As he and McKinley left the store, both shot Paruchuri. According to the store's video security system that recorded the entire sequence, Jenkins and McKinley were in the store for thirty-seven seconds. Paruchuri died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. Jenkins was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery. A jury sentenced Jenkins to death on the murder charge. This opinion consolidated Jenkins' direct appeal and the South Carolina Supreme Court's mandatory review of his death sentence under section 16-3-25 of the South Carolina Code (2015). Judgment and sentence was affirmed. View "South Carolina v. Jenkins" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the armed robbery and shooting death of a convenience store clerk, James Mahoney, at Nikki's Speedy Mart in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, in the early morning hours of September 16, 1999. Richard Moore petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus to challenge the proportionality of the death sentence that was imposed for his murder conviction. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Moore's motion to argue against the precedent of South Carolina v. Copeland, 300 S.E.2d 63 (1982). After review of the record and applicable law and consideration of the parties' arguments, the Supreme Court clarified Copeland and noted the Court was not statutorily required to restrict its proportionality review of "similar cases" to a comparison of only cases in which a sentence of death was imposed. The Supreme Court concluded, however, that Moore did not establish he was entitled to habeas relief. View "Moore v. Stirling" on Justia Law

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Kenneth Taylor was charged with driving under the influence (DUI). The magistrate court dismissed the charge, finding the State failed to comply with subsection 56-5-2953(A)'s requirement that the DUI incident site video recording "show" the defendant being advised of his Miranda rights. The circuit court and court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari to address two issues: (1) the meaning of the word "show" as it was used in subsection 56-5-2953(A); and (2) whether per se dismissal of a DUI charge was the proper remedy for a video's failure to "show" a DUI defendant being advised of his Miranda rights at the incident site. The Supreme Court concluded the magistrate court correctly interpreted the meaning of the word "show" as used in subsection 56-5-2953(A); however, the Court held that failure to show a DUI defendant being advised of his Miranda rights did not mandate per se dismissal. View "South Carolina v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Arguing that a drug raid of his home violated the Fourth Amendment, Petitioner Kelvin Jones appealed his convictions for trafficking cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine within the proximity of a school. Jones's pretrial motion to suppress was denied and he was convicted following a jury trial. The court of appeals affirmed on the basis the issue was not preserved for appellate review. The South Carolina Supreme Court held Jones's argument as to the search warrant was preserved but failed on the merits. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in result the court of appeals' opinion and took this opportunity presented by this case to clarify issue preservation rules with respect to pre-trial rulings of constitutional dimension. View "South Carolina v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Ontario Stefon Patrick Makins was indicted for lewd act upon a minor, third-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor, and first-degree CSC with a minor. A jury convicted him of third-degree CSC with a minor. The court of appeals reversed the conviction, holding a therapist's affirmation she treated the minor victim (Minor) improperly bolstered Minor's credibility. The South Carolina Supreme Court found no improper bolstering occurred in this case, however, it repeated its warning about dual experts: "Using one witness as both a characteristics expert and the treatment witness is a risky undertaking. This issue might have been avoided completely had the State called a blind characteristics expert, a path the trial court repeatedly encouraged the State to follow. Instead, the State chose to proceed with [the expert here] acting as a dual expert." The court of appeals' judgment was reversed and the judgment of conviction reinstated. View "South Carolina v. Makins" on Justia Law

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A South Carolina circuit court's granted summary judgment in favor of Respondent Dennis Powell, Jr. on his claims challenging the internet publication and lifetime duration of his mandated registration as a sex offender under the South Carolina Sex Offender Registry Act ("SORA"). The circuit court held SORA's lifetime registration requirement was punitive under the Eighth Amendment and violated Respondent's rights to due process and equal protection. The court also determined SORA did not permit publication of the State's sex offender registry on the internet. Mark Keel, Chief of the State Law Enforcement Division ("SLED"), and the State of South Carolina (collectively, "Appellants") appealed the circuit court's decision. The South Carolina Supreme Court held SORA's lifetime registration requirement was unconstitutional absent any opportunity for judicial review to assess the risk of re-offending. Furthermore, the Court held subsection 23-3-490(E) permitted dissemination of the State's sex offender registry information on the internet. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed as modified in part and reversed in part. View "Powell v. Keel" on Justia Law

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Terrance Stewart was convicted by jury of distribution of heroin and two crimes based on his knowing possession of illegal drugs: trafficking in heroin and what we commonly refer to as "simple possession" of oxycodone. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari review to two aspects of the jury instructions: (1) the trial court's definition of constructive possession; and (2) the trial court's explanation of an inference of "knowledge and possession" that the court told the jury it may draw when illegal drugs are found on the defendant's property. The Supreme Court found the trial court erred by instructing the jury on the inference of knowledge and possession. The Court reversed the trafficking and simple possession convictions and remanded those charges for a new trial. However, because the erroneous jury instruction did not prejudice Stewart on the distribution charge, the distribution conviction was affirmed. View "South Carolina v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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John Willie Mack, Sr. petitioned the South Carolina Supreme Court for review of the dismissal of his second application for post-conviction relief. He alleged his DNA counsel failed to timely appeal the denial of his application for DNA testing under the Access to Justice Post-Conviction DNA Testing Act ("DNA Act"). The Supreme Court found that because Mack was prevented from seeking appellate review, it was necessary to provide an avenue of relief akin to Austin v. South Carolina, 409 S.E.2d 395 (1991) that afforded him the opportunity to obtain belated review. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded to the court of general sessions for an evidentiary hearing. View "Mack v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Appellant James Harrison, a former state legislator, was convicted and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment in a public corruption probe. The case was prosecuted by David Pascoe, Solicitor of the First Judicial Circuit, who was serving as the acting Attorney General. As recognized in prior case law, Solicitor Pascoe's authority to pursue the corruption probe was bestowed on him by South Carolina's then-current Attorney General, Alan Wilson. Appellant contended Solicitor Pascoe's authority did not grant the solicitor the power to investigate or prosecute Appellant. Conversely, Solicitor Pascoe dismissed any suggestion that his authority was limited, contending he had the authority to prosecute public corruption wherever the investigation led. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined Solicitor Pascoe had the authority to prosecute Appellant for perjury, but did not have the authority to prosecute Appellant for misconduct in office. Consequently, the Court affirmed Appellant's conviction and eighteen-month sentence for perjury, but reversed the statutory and common law misconduct in office charges, and remanded to the presiding judge of the State Grand Jury for further proceedings. View "South Carolina v. Harrison" on Justia Law