Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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Petitioner Sha'quille Washington was indicted for the murder of Herman Manigault and was convicted of the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. The court of appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted petitioner's petition for certiorari review of the appellate court's judgment. After such review, the Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in giving an accomplice liability instruction, and held petitioner was prejudiced by this error. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and reversed in part, and remanded to the circuit court for a new trial on the charge of voluntary manslaughter. View "South Carolina v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended Bradley Sanders' driver's license pursuant to South Carolina's implied consent statute after he refused to take a blood-alcohol test following his arrest for driving under the influence (DUI). The suspension was upheld by the Office of Motor Vehicles and Hearings (OMVH), the Administrative Law Court (ALC), and the court of appeals. Sanders argued on appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court that the decision of the court of appeals should have been reversed due to a lack of substantial evidence in the record to support the suspension. Specifically, Sanders argued the court of appeals erred in: (1) determining there was substantial evidence that a nurse, who was working in the emergency room at the time Sanders was admitted, qualified as licensed medical personnel; and (2) holding the statements used to establish his alleged inability to submit to a breath test were not hearsay. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the suspension. View "Sanders v. So. Carolina Dept. Motor Veh." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Robin Herndon was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for shooting and killing her live-in boyfriend, Christopher Rowley, allegedly, in self defense. Petitioner was tried for murder; the case against Petitioner was largely circumstantial. Petitioner requested the Logan circumstantial evidence charge, but the trial court refused, opting instead for the pre-Logan circumstantial evidence charge. On appeal, there was no contention that the trial court properly refused to give a "Logan" charge. Instead, the State contended the court's failure to give the Logan charge was a harmless error, for the jury instructions as a whole were substantially correct. The court of appeals summarily accepted the State's argument and affirmed. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that while there may be cases in which a trial court's failure to five the Logan charge is indeed harmless, "this is not such a case." The State's case against Petitioner was almost exclusively circumstantial. The State relied on: (1) eyewitness testimony prior to the shooting to suggest Petitioner was angry; and (2) testimony from the pathologist explaining the pathway of the bullet could have been caused by Petitioner shooting the victim as he walked up the stairs to the house. In urging the Supreme Court to find the error was harmless, "the State entirely disregards the testimony of its own witness that it was plausible the fatal wound could have been caused by the victim charging Petitioner, exactly as Petitioner testified. The competing inferences involved in this circumstantial evidence case illustrate well the need for the Logan charge. Because the failure to provide the Logan circumstantial evidence charge was not harmless and that failure manifestly prejudiced Petitioner, we reverse and remand for a new trial." View "South Carolina v. Herndon" on Justia Law

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John Massey, Jr. was indicted for first-degree burglary, grand larceny, and criminal conspiracy. The circuit court granted a defense motion to quash the indictment for first-degree burglary on the basis the premises entered did not qualify as a dwelling. The court of appeals affirmed. The State contended on appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court that, beyond the fact that the circuit court did not have the authority to quash a facially valid indictment on sufficiency-of-the-evidence grounds, the court of appeals erred in affirming the circuit court's ruling on the merits. To this, the Supreme Court agreed, and reversed. The matter was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "South Carolina v. Massey" on Justia Law

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Billy Phillips was convicted of murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. At trial, a DNA analyst testified Phillips could not be excluded as a contributor to a mixture of DNA recovered from two samples taken from the crime scene. The analyst conceded, however, the statistical probability that some other randomly selected and unrelated person also could not be excluded as the person who left the DNA was, for one of the samples, only one in two. Furthermore, the State failed to explain to the trial court or the jury three fundamental concepts underlying the DNA testimony the analyst gave in this particular case. Finally, in several instances, the State presented information to the trial court and the jury that was simply wrong. Taking all of this into consideration, the South Carolina Supreme Court held the trial court erred in not sustaining Phillips' objections to this testimony. The conviction was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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Kathryn Key was convicted in summary court of driving under the influence (DUI). Her conviction was based upon the testing of her blood, which was drawn without a warrant while she was unconscious. The circuit court reversed and remanded, finding the summary court should have suppressed evidence of Key's blood alcohol concentration because the State did not obtain a warrant. The State appealed, and the appeal was transferred to the South Carolina Supreme Court. While the appeal was pending, the United States Supreme Court decided Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S. Ct. 2525 (2019). In Mitchell, the Supreme Court held for the first time that, generally, law enforcement was permitted to draw the blood of an unconscious DUI suspect without a search warrant pursuant to the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. However, the Supreme Court acknowledged the possibility of an "unusual" case presenting an exception to this new general rule. The Mitchell Court determined the defendant should be given the opportunity to establish the applicability of the exception to the general rule and remanded the case to the trial court for that purpose. The South Carolina Court carefully considered the Mitchell holding and concluded it would not impose upon a defendant the burden of establishing the absence of exigent circumstances. The Court held the burden of establishing the existence of exigent circumstances remained upon the State. The exigent circumstances issue in this case was not ruled upon by the summary court; therefore, it was remanded for further proceedings at the summary court. View "South Carolina v. Key" on Justia Law

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Terry Williams shot and killed Larry Moore (victim) and shot and wounded Reva McFadden. Williams was indicted for murder, assault and batter of a high and aggravated nature, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. A jury convicted Williams of voluntary manslaughter (a lesser-included offense to murder), assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, and the weapon charge. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Williams a writ of certiorari to determine whether the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's ruling allowing the State to impeach McFadden on redirect examination with details of two previous instances of domestic violence between Williams and McFadden. The Supreme Court held the trial court erred in allowing the State to elicit unfairly prejudicial details of the domestic violence incidents. The error was not harmless; therefore, the court of appeals was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Respondent Rick Quinn, Jr. was a former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, representing constituents in Richland and Lexington counties from 1989-2004 and 2010-2017 and serving as House Majority Leader from 1999- 2004. He owned and operated a mail business called Mail Marketing Strategies (MMS) in Columbia, while his father owned and operated a political consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates (RQ&A). In 2014, Attorney General Alan Wilson designated First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe as special prosecutor to conduct a State grand jury investigation into alleged public corruption committed by current and former members of the South Carolina General Assembly. This case arose from a prior state grand jury investigation of former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, which resulted in six counts of misusing campaign funds, to which he pleaded guilty. During the course of the investigation into Speaker Harrell, SLED uncovered potentially criminal conduct by Representative Jimmy Merrill and Representative Rick Quinn, and a second grand jury investigation was initiated to investigate the conduct of these individuals. The investigation focused on Quinn's practice of using his office as House Majority Leader and leader of the House Republican Caucus to direct mailing and political services to his family's businesses. Quinn only admitted to a limited set of facts supporting the indictment. Believing the plea lacked a sufficient basis, the State moved to vacate Quinn's guilty plea, reconsider the sentence, and for the trial court's recusal. The State appealed the order denying its motions. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court determined that the State could not appeal the guilty plea, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing, and there was no evidence of judicial bias or prejudice requiring the court to recuse itself. Therefore, the Court dismissed the State's appeal of the guilty plea, and affirmed as to all other issues. View "South Carolina v. Quinn" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Wallace Perry was convicted on two counts of criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor in the first degree and two counts of CSC with a minor in the second degree for sexually assaulting two of his biological daughters. Prior to Perry's trial, the State made a motion to admit the testimony of Perry's stepdaughter from an earlier marriage that Perry sexually assaulted her twenty-two to twenty-seven years earlier. The State argued the trial court should not exclude the stepdaughter's testimony under Rule 404(b) of the South Carolina Rules of Evidence because it fit the "common scheme or plan" exception. Perry objected to this testimony. The trial court initially reserved ruling on the issue, but later indicated it was inclined to allow the stepdaughter to testify. The jury convicted Perry on all counts, and the trial court sentenced him to thirty years in prison. The court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined it was not enough to meet the "logical connection" standard for admission of other crimes under the common scheme or plan exception to Rule 404(b) that the defendant previously committed the same crime. "When evidence of other crimes is admitted based solely on the similarity of a previous crime, the evidence serves only the purpose prohibited by Rule 404(b), and allows the jury to convict the defendant on the improper inference of propensity that because he did it before, he must have done it again. ...The common scheme or plan exception demands more." The Supreme Court held State must show a logical connection between the other crime and the crime charged such that the evidence of other crimes "reasonably tends to prove a material fact in issue." The State must also convince the trial court that the probative force of the evidence when used for this legitimate purpose is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice from the inherent tendency of the evidence to show the defendant's propensity to commit similar crimes. In this case, the State did not meet its burden. Conviction was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Perry" on Justia Law

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Appellant Larry Durant was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) for sexually abusing a teenage girl in his church office where he served as the pastor. Durant contended the trial court improperly permitted the State to introduce evidence of prior sexual abuse allegations as evidence of a common scheme or plan under Rule 404(b), SCRE, and that the State committed a "Brady" violation by failing to accurately disclose the criminal history of its witness. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the admissibility of the girls' testimony. "[W]hile the State failed to disclose the criminal background information of its witness, we find this information was not material." The Court found Durant exercised his position of trust, authority, and spiritual leadership to hold private prayer meetings with teen girls who had grown up in his church. He told them he was praying for their health and good fortune, and represented that part of this process was touching them sexually and having intercourse. Durant then warned the girls of misfortune if they refused or told anyone. Moreover, he used scripture as a means of grooming the children into performing sex acts. "These facts demonstrate the requisite logical connection between the prior acts of sexual abuse and the one forming the basis of the crime charged." The Court therefore affirmed Durant's conviction. View "South Carolina v. Durant" on Justia Law