Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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Robert Prather was convicted of murder and strong arm robbery. The trial court sentenced Prather to concurrent prison terms of thirty years for murder and ten years for strong arm robbery. Prather appealed, and a divided court of appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari, and after review, held that the trial court did not err in admitting the State's reply testimony. Prather's additional sustaining grounds were without merit. The Court therefore reversed the court of appeals and reinstated Prather's convictions. View "South Carolina v. Prather" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Robert Moore was convicted by jury and sentenced to thirty years’ imprisonment for the attempted murder of Travis Hall. Hall was shot in the head and left for dead in a vehicle in a Taco Bell parking lot following a drug deal gone wrong. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, law enforcement officers found three cell phones, including one later identified as Petitioner's in the area of the driver's floorboard after emergency medical personnel removed Hall from the vehicle. Without obtaining a warrant, the officers removed the cell phones' subscriber identity module (SIM) cards to determine ownership. The officers then obtained a warrant to search the contents of Petitioner's phone. Petitioner's subsequent motion to suppress all evidence acquired from the phone was denied, as the trial court found Petitioner had abandoned his phone. A divided court of appeals' panel affirmed Petitioner's conviction on the basis of inevitable discovery. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. View "South Carolina v. Moore" on Justia Law

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Eric Spears was indicted for trafficking crack cocaine between ten and twenty-eight grams. Spears moved to suppress the evidence of the drugs seized from his person on the ground he was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and Spears was convicted as charged. The trial court sentenced Spears to thirty years in prison. A divided court of appeals reversed Spears' conviction. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision, and reversed, thus upholding Spears' conviction. The Supreme Court found evidence in the record to support the trial court's finding that Spears engaged in a consensual encounter with law enforcement and that Spears' subsequent actions created a reasonable suspicion that he may have been armed and dangerous - justifying law enforcement's Terry frisk that led to the discovery of the offending crack cocaine in Spears' pants. View "South Carolina v. Spears" on Justia Law

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Appellant Terry McCall was convicted of felony DUI. On appeal, he argued the warrantless collection of his blood and urine at the direction of law enforcement pursuant to Section 56-5-2946 of the South Carolina Code (2018) violated the Fourth Amendment. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed because exigent circumstances existed to support the admission of his blood and urine test results. View "South Carolina v. McCall" on Justia Law

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In the course of a gun battle between mutual combatants, a bullet fired at Petitioner Aaron Young Jr. (Young Jr.) missed its intended mark and killed an unintended victim. Young Jr. and his father Aaron Young Sr. (Young Sr.) willingly engaged a rival, Tyrone Robinson, in a residential neighborhood. The battle ended when Robinson shot and killed an unintended victim, an eight-year-old child who was playing in the area. The State charged all three combatants with the murder of the victim. Robinson's murder charge stemmed from a straightforward application of the doctrine of transferred intent. The Youngs' murder charges stemmed from an application of the doctrine of mutual combat. The South Carolina Supreme Court held mutual combat could properly serve as the basis for a murder charge for the death of a non-combatant under the "hand of one is the hand of all" theory of accomplice liability. The Court therefore found the law sanctioned holding Young Jr. responsible for the actions of Robinson in causing the victim's death, and affirmed Young Jr.'s murder conviction and sentence. View "South Carolina v. Young" on Justia Law

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John Henry Dial Jr. was charged in magistrates court with three counts of assault and battery in the third degree arising from an incident in which two adults and one minor were sprayed with pepper spray. Dial appeared in court several times before trial, each time without counsel. He pled not guilty and requested a jury trial. The record on appeal did not include transcripts of Dial's pre-trial appearances. The magistrate averred he advised Dial on three separate occasions before trial of his right to be represented by an attorney. Each time, Dial requested to represent himself. The return was silent as to whether the magistrate advised Dial of the dangers of representing himself. Dial testified in his defense and denied spraying any of the victims with pepper spray. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on two counts of assault and battery in the third degree but found Dial not guilty on the count for spraying the minor. The magistrates court sentenced Dial to sixty days in jail. Dial retained counsel to appeal his conviction to the circuit court. He argued, among other things, "[Dial] was not represented by counsel and did not waive his right to counsel." At the hearing in the circuit court, Dial's counsel stated, "There is no evidence in the return or in the transcript that the trial judge properly warned [Dial] under Faretta v. California of the dangers of proceeding pro se." The circuit court affirmed Dial's conviction. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined the record idid not reflect whether the magistrates court obtained a valid waiver of the right to counsel before proceeding to the trial of this unrepresented defendant. Therefore, the Supreme Court remanded to the circuit court for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel. View "South Carolina v. Dial" on Justia Law

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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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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