Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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Tyrone King was convicted of murder, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, third-degree assault and battery, and pointing and presenting a firearm. The trial court sentenced King to life imprisonment for murder, a consecutive five year term for possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, and thirty days for third-degree assault and battery. King appealed his murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime convictions, and the court of appeals remanded the case to the trial court to conduct a full Rule 404(b), SCRE, analysis regarding the trial court's admission of certain other bad act evidence. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision. The Supreme Court found the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the unrelated murder charge, and the Supreme Court held this error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court vacated the court appeals' decision to remand to the trial court for proper analysis of the admissibility of the unrelated murder charge, as a remand would be pointless. The Court held King was entitled to a new trial on the charges of murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. King's unappealed convictions for third-degree assault and battery and pointing and presenting a firearm were not affected by the Supreme Court's holding. View "South Carolina v. King" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Roy Jones appealed his convictions for first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor, second-degree CSC with a minor, and two counts of committing a lewd act on a minor. The issues Jones raised on appeal all concerned the admission of testimony from an expert witness qualified in child sexual abuse dynamics. The court of appeals affirmed Jones's convictions. Finding no reversible error, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals, but took the opportunity to clarify the proper inquiry for determining whether a particular subject area falls outside the realm of lay knowledge, thus requiring expert testimony. View "South Carolina v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Petitioner James Simmons Jr. was convicted of criminal sexual conduct (CSC) involving two minors. The minors were Petitioner's twin sons. A key feature of the State's case was the challenged testimony of a pediatrician admitted pursuant to Rule 803(4), SCRE, which provided a hearsay exception for statements made in connection with medical diagnosis or treatment. The court of appeals affirmed, first questioning whether Petitioner's challenge was preserved, and then concluding the pediatrician's testimony was properly admitted. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for a new trial: Petitioner preserved his objection to the pediatrician's purported Rule 803(4), SCRE, testimony, and the admission of the hearsay statements in this case was blatantly improper. "This improper testimony was nothing more than hearsay shrouded in a doctor's white coat, in violation of the South Carolina Rules of Evidence." View "South Carolina v. Simmons" on Justia Law

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James Dill Jr. was convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine, and the trial court sentenced him to a prison term of ten years. Dill appealed his conviction, and the court of appeals affirmed. Sheriff's deputies searched Dill's residence. Including Dill, five or six individuals were inside the residence at the time of the search. Neither an active methamphetamine lab nor methamphetamine was discovered in Dill's residence. Law enforcement seized five one-pound containers of salt (some full and some partially empty), two bottles of Coleman brand camping fuel, a sixteen-ounce bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a bottle of unknown fluid, and a roll of aluminum foil. Law enforcement did not discover any ephedrine-based medications (or empty blister packs of ephedrine-based medications), lithium strips or batteries, drain cleaners, cold packs, sulfuric acid, or toluene, all of which are commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. At the conclusion of the search, law enforcement placed the seized items in buckets, took four photographs, and immediately destroyed the items without testing for methamphetamine or fingerprints. The items were destroyed without being tested because methamphetamine is highly volatile and may present a danger if placed in storage or tested for methamphetamine. Dill was arrested and indicted for manufacturing methamphetamine. Dill moved pretrial to suppress the evidence found during the execution of the search warrant for lack of probable cause or, in the alternative, for the trial court to require the State to reveal the identity of the confidential informant. The South Carolina Supreme Court conceded it must give "great deference" to a magistrate's finding of probable cause. However, given the totality of the circumstances, the Court found the magistrate lacked a substantial basis for concluding probable cause existed for a search of Dill's residence. Under the narrow facts of this case, the search warrant was therefore invalid, and Dill's conviction was reversed. View "South Carolina v. Dill" on Justia Law

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David Ross pled guilty in 1979 to lewd act upon a child. Thirty-two years later, he was convicted in magistrate's court of misdemeanor failure to register as a sex offender. Ross argued the automatic imposition of lifetime electronic monitoring required by subsection 23-3-540(E) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2017) as a result of his failure to register was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. Addressing only this particular subsection of 23-3- 540, the South Carolina Supreme Court agreed, and reversed the circuit court's order automatically imposing electronic monitoring. The case was remanded for an individualized inquiry into whether the imposition of monitoring in Ross's circumstances was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. View "South Carolina v. Ross" on Justia Law

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At issue before the South Carolina Supreme Court was whether the digital information stored on a cell phone may be abandoned such that its privacy is no longer protected by the Fourth Amendment. The victim contacted police after discovering her condominium had been burglarized. The window was broken in one of the bedrooms; a television, laptop computers and some jewelry was taken. The phone was found at the scene of the break-in. A responding police officer took the cell phone at issue in this appeal to the police station and secured it. Days later, the detective retrieving the phone from the locker saw the background picture of a black male with dreadlocks. Considering the phone to be "abandoned property," he guessed the code to unlock the screen—1-2-3-4—and opened the phone without a warrant. The detective looked through the "contacts" stored on the phone and found a person listed as "Grandma." He entered "Grandma's" phone number into a database called Accurint and identified a list of her relatives, which included a man matching the age of the person pictured on the background screen of the cell phone—defendant Lamar Brown. The detective entered Brown's name into the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles database and looked at Brown's driver's license photograph. After comparing the photographs, the detective determined Brown was the man pictured on the screen of the cell phone. Brown was questioned; Brown admitted the phone belonged to him, but that it was lost. Brown admitted that no one else could have had his cell phone on the night of the burglary. Brown was ultimately charged with first degree burglary. The trial court determined the information on the cell phone in this case had been abandoned, and admitted it into evidence. A divided panel of the court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals. View "South Carolina v. Brown" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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Appellant Stephanie Irene Greene appeals her convictions and sentences for homicide by child abuse, involuntary manslaughter, and unlawful conduct toward a child for the death of her infant daughter, Alexis. Appellant was Alexis's mother; she was Alexis's caretaker during her brief life. Alexis died from morphine poisoning when she was forty-six days old. Appellant, a former nurse, was addicted to many drugs. The State contended that Appellant's morphine addiction (as well as dependence on other drugs) caused Alexis's drug poisoning through breastfeeding. The jury convicted Appellant on all charges. Appellant was sentenced to prison for twenty years for homicide by child abuse, five years concurrent for involuntary manslaughter, and five years concurrent for unlawful conduct toward a child. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the homicide by child abuse and unlawful conduct toward a child convictions and sentences, but vacated the involuntary manslaughter conviction and sentence. With respect to the involuntary manslaughter charge, the Court found nothing in South Carolina's homicide statutes or law that reflected a legislative intent to deviate from the overwhelmingly prevailing view that the homicide of one person by one defendant is limited to one homicide punishment - one homicide, one homicide punishment. View "South Carolina v. Greene" on Justia Law