Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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Stacey and Tammie Bazen married in 1999 and lived in Myrtle Beach. The marriage was unstable, with frequent separations and accusations that Stacey was unfaithful. Their first daughter was born in 2004. In 2008, they had twin girls. At the time of Stacey's death in 2013, he and Tammie were again separated. Stacey was living at the home of his parents, Laverne and Pansy Bazen, in Pamplico, South Carolina, approximately fifty miles from where the children lived with Tammie in Myrtle Beach. The grandparents saw the children frequently until Stacey died, mostly in Myrtle Beach. During the periods of Stacey and Tammie's separation, including at the time of Stacey's death, the children would visit with Stacey at the grandparents' home. The grandparents developed a positive, loving relationship with the children. The children were 9 and 5 at the time of Stacey's death. The family court found Tammie and the grandparents "had a great amount of animosity between them." Tammie's relationship with the grandparents soured when the twins were very young. Soon after Stacey died, Tammie had a dispute with the grandparents over Stacey's estate. The dispute carried over into their communication about the grandparents seeing the children. The grandparents filed suit in family court in July 2016 seeking an order pursuant to subsection 63-3-530(A)(33) requiring Tammie to allow visitation. The case went to trial in October 2017. The family court entered an order on November 17, 2017, granting visitation. Tammie appealed the November 2017 order. The South Carolina Supreme Court rejected the mother's argument the subsection was unconstitutional, and found the grandparents satisfied the requirements of the subsection and were entitled to have some visitation. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed. However, the Court found it necessary to accommodate reasonable restrictions the mother sought to impose on visitation. In light of this finding, the Supreme Court modified the visitation schedule. View "Bazen v. Bazen" 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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In 2013, a bus driven by Defendant Asia Partman struck Respondent Andrew Neumayer while he was a pedestrian in Cayce, South Carolina. EMS transported Neumayer to Lexington Medical Center where he was diagnosed with a ruptured spleen, broken left ribs, left humerus fracture, left pneumothorax, and a punctured lung. After eight days in the hospital and medical costs of approximately $122,000, Neumayer was released. Partman worked for Defendant Primary Colors Child Care Center, and in November of 2013, Neumayer filed a lawsuit against both defendants, alleging negligence against Partman and Primary Colors. The defendants did not answer or respond in any fashion, and after a default judgment was entered, the court held a damages hearing, where it awarded Neumayer $622,500. Over eighteen months after the entry of default, Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co. (Philadelphia), Primary Colors' insurance carrier, received notice that its insured was involved in a lawsuit that culminated in a default judgment. While the record was unclear as to why it took eighteen months to notify Philadelphia, it ultimately received notice when Neumayer's counsel faxed documents seeking to collect $622,500. Philadelphia declined to pay that amount, instead asserting its indemnification obligation was limited to $25,000 because South Carolina jurisprudence required an insurer to pay only the minimum limits when it was substantially prejudiced by its insured's failure to provide notice of a lawsuit. Further, Philadelphia contended the failure to receive notice of the underlying lawsuit prevented an opportunity to investigate and defend. Neumayer filed this declaratory judgment action asking the court to require Philadelphia to pay the judgment in full. At issue before the South Carolina Supreme Court was whether notice clauses in automobile insurance policies were rendered meaningless by Section 38-77-142(C) of the South Carolina Code (2015) . The trial court found the clause in this policy void and accordingly required the insurance company to pay the full default judgment entered against its insured. The insurer appealed. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred in ruling that section 38-77-142(C) invalidated the standard notice clause contained in this insurance policy. β€œAn insurer may continue to invoke notice clauses to deny coverage above the statutory limits, providing the insurer can prove that it was substantially prejudiced by its insured's failure to comply with the provision.” View "Neumayer v. Philadelphia Indemnity" 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

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Jalann Williams was convicted for murder, shooting and killing his victim with an unlawfully-possessed pistol defendant intentionally brought to an illegal drug transaction. Williams argued the trial court erred in refusing to charge the jury with the law of self-defense. The South Carolina Supreme Court found defendant was at fault in bringing on the violence. View "South Carolina v. Williams" on Justia Law