Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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Petitioner Gerald Williams was convicted of three counts of attempted murder related to his alleged shooting into an occupied mobile home where he knew his intended victim was present, but did not realize two other individuals were also present. Under the common law, transferred intent “makes a whole crime out of two halves by joining the intent to harm one victim with the actual harm caused to another.” Normally, transferred intent applies to general-intent crimes. However, attempted murder is a specific-intent crime in South Carolina, and the South Carolina Supreme Court had not yet addressed whether transferred intent could supply the requisite mens rea for such a crime. Because this case was tried without objection as a general-intent crime, the Supreme Court found the doctrine of transferred intent applied in this instance. The Court declined to address the applicability of transferred intent to a specific-intent crime such as attempted murder and vacate the portion of the court of appeals' opinion dealing with this issue. The Court found in light of the facts of this case, there was no error in failing to charge the jury on the lesser-included offense of assault and battery in the first degree (AB-1st). The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals as modified. View "South Carolina v. Williams" on Justia Law

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In 2013, respondent Frederick Pfeiffer pled guilty to criminal conspiracy and two counts of securities fraud. The State and Pfeiffer entered into a negotiated plea. It was uncontested that the trial court sentenced Pfeiffer in accordance with the negotiated plea agreement. A dispute quickly arose with the South Carolina Department of Correction's interpretation of the sentencing sheets. To resolve any confusion, Pfeiffer timely filed his first Rule 29(a) motion to correct the clerical errors, which resulted in a hearing. Without objection, the trial court entered an amended sentence clarifying the sentencing sheets. On the same date, Pfeiffer's codefendant was sentenced. Pfeiffer believed his sentence was unduly harsh in comparison to his codefendant's sentence. As a result, twenty-nine days after the original sentence, Pfeiffer filed a second Rule 29(a) motion seeking a reduced sentence based on the codefendant's lighter sentence. As noted, there was never a suggestion Pfeiffer's original sentence was contrary to the negotiated plea agreement. Rather, the negotiated plea specifically allowed the State to control the order and timing of Pfeiffer and his codefendant's pleas and sentencing proceedings. The State argued that Pfeiffer's second motion was untimely because more than ten days had elapsed since the original sentencing and the second motion was in no manner related to the first. The trial court, however, found the motion was timely, and granted Pfeiffer's second motion by reducing his sentence. The issue this case presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court's review centered on whether, after the disposition of an initial Rule 29(a) motion, and more than ten days after imposition of the sentence, did the trial court have jurisdiction to hear a second Rule 29(a) motion? The Court held the trial court did not have jurisdiction to hear a second Rule 29(a) motion, unless the second motion challenged something that was altered from the original sentence as a result of the initial Rule 29(a) motion. View "South Carolina v. Pfeiffer" on Justia Law

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Daniel Hamrick appealed his conviction for felony driving under the influence resulting in great bodily injury. Hamrick argued the trial court erred in: (1) denying his motion to suppress test results from blood drawn without a search warrant; (2) admitting the blood test results into evidence despite a violation of the three-hour statutory time limit for drawing blood; (3) permitting a police officer to give opinion testimony on accident reconstruction; and (4) excluding from evidence a video recording of an experiment conducted by Hamrick's expert in accident reconstruction. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the trial court erred in admitting the officer's opinion testimony, and accordingly reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "Hamrick v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Denzel Heyward was indicted for murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence for an incident that resulted in the death of Kadeem Chambers. The jury could not reach a verdict as to murder, but found Heyward guilty of the remaining charges. The trial court sentenced him to an aggregate term of 65 years. Heyward appealed, claiming the trial court erred by admitting a photo lineup identification, and by finding his counsel opened the door to the admission of testimony that he had previously committed domestic violence. The court of appeals affirmed. With respect to the domestic violence issue, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed, “we do not believe counsel opened the door to allegations Heyward physically abused [Quasantrina ]Rivers.” The Supreme Court believed the State used the open-door doctrine to introduce propensity evidence, with no evidentiary support for the court's decision. This, the Court concluded, amounted to an abuse of discretion. “The evidence was introduced solely to demonstrate Heyward's poor character, and given the close case presented, we are unable to find the error was not prejudicial.” The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "South Carolina v. Heyward" on Justia Law

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Stephon Robinson was convicted of first-degree burglary and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Robinson appealed, and the court of appeals remanded the matter to the trial court to conduct an on-the-record balancing test regarding the admissibility of certain prior convictions the State used to impeach Robinson's credibility pursuant to Rule 609(a)(1) of the South Carolina Rules of Evidence. After the remand hearing, the trial court ruled Robinson's prior convictions were properly admitted; consequently, the burglary and weapon convictions remained in place. Robinson appealed again, and the court of appeals issued an unpublished opinion holding that although the trial court erred in applying two of the five factors the South Carolina Supreme Court set forth in South Carolina v. Colf, 535 S.E.2d 246 (2000), any error in the admission of Robinson's prior convictions for impeachment was harmless. The Supreme Court granted cross-petitions for writs of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision. The Court affirmed the court of appeals as modified: the court of appeals reached the correct result by affirming Robinson's convictions; however, its analysis of the admissibility of the prior convictions was erroneous. View "South Carolina v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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This case centered on the validity of a referendum question passed during the 2016 elections which granted the Dorchester County, South Carolina Council authority to issue up to $30 million in bonds for library facilities and up to $13 million for recreational facilities. Finding there was no indication the voters did not understand it, the circuit court determined it was not improper. But because the question contained two separate bond proposals and required voters to support both or neither, the South Carolina Supreme Court held it was unlawful. View "Zeigler v. Dorchester County" on Justia Law

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At age 13, petitioner Conrad Slocumb kidnapped and sexually assaulted a teacher before shooting her in the face and head five times and leaving her for dead. Three years later, following his guilty plea for the first set of crimes, he escaped from custody and raped and robbed another woman in a brutal manner before being apprehended again. For these two sets of crimes, Slocumb received an aggregate 130-year sentence due to the individual sentences being run consecutively. Before the South Carolina Supreme Court, Slocumb argued an aggregate 130-year sentence for multiple offenses committed on multiple dates violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The South Carolina Court acknowledged the “ostensible merit in Slocumb's argument, for it is arguably a reasonable extension of Graham [v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010)] and Miller [v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012)]. Yet precedent dictates that only the Supreme Court may extend and enlarge the protections guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Once the Supreme Court has drawn a line in the sand, the authority to redraw that line and broaden federal constitutional protections is limited to our nation's highest court.” Because the decision to expand the reach and protections of the Eighth Amendment lay exclusively with the Supreme Court, the South Carolina Supreme Court felt constrained to deny Slocumb relief. View "South Carolina v. Slocumb" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Dennis Cervantes-Pavon's petition for a writ of certiorari to determine whether the court of appeals erred in affirming the circuit court's denial of immunity from prosecution under the Protection of Persons and Property Act. Cervantes-Pavon was indicted for murdering Raymond Muniz by stabbing him with a sheetrock saw at their workplace. Both men worked on a construction project at the Belk department store in Mount Pleasant. Prior to trial, Cervantes-Pavon moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing he was immune from prosecution under the Act. At the hearing, construction superintendent Herbie Evans testified he became aware of a problem between Muniz and Cervantes-Pavon when Cervantes-Pavon approached Evans and stated Muniz was picking on him. Evans spoke with Muniz and informed him that he would not tolerate any conflicts between employees and would send them home if one occurred. Evans did not witness any interactions between Muniz and Cervantes-Pavon on that day. Jose Somosa testified he worked with Muniz and Cervantes-Pavon on the Belk project. Somosa recalled that the day before the stabbing, Muniz had removed his shirt and attempted to fight Cervantes-Pavon, who refused. The next day, Somosa was working as Cervantes-Pavon's helper on the project by staying on the ground while Cervantes-Pavon worked on a ladder. According to Somosa, each time Muniz walked by Cervantes-Pavon, Muniz would say the two men should fight and Cervantes-Pavon would respond that he didn't want any trouble. Animosity between the two eventually erupted with Cervantes-Pavon stabbing Muniz. The State argued the issue was a "clear question of fact" regarding selfdefense, noting Cervantes-Pavon stabbed Muniz when Muniz was unarmed. The State contended the evidence presented did not rise to a preponderance of the evidence that Cervantes-Pavon acted in self-defense. The circuit court denied Cervantes-Pavon's motion. The court noted the Act grants immunity if a movant proves the factors by a preponderance of the evidence. Because there were erroneous bases on which to deny immunity, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's decision and remanded for a new hearing. View "South Carolina v. Cervantes-Pavon" on Justia Law

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Robert Osbey pled guilty to criminal charges without counsel. He later applied for post-conviction relief (PCR) on the ground he did not waive his right to counsel. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the denial of his PCR claim because the record did not reflect a valid waiver of Osbey's right to counsel. In particular, the Court found the plea court did not ensure Osbey was aware of the dangers of self-representation. This case was remanded to the court of general sessions for a new trial. View "Osbey v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Sentry Select Insurance Company brought a legal malpractice lawsuit in federal district court against the lawyer it hired to defend an insured in an automobile accident case. The district court requested the South Carolina Supreme Court answer whether, under South Carolina law: (1) an insurer may maintain a direct malpractice action against counsel hired to represent its insured where the insurance company had a duty to defend; and (2) whether a legal malpractice claim be assigned to a third-party who is responsible for payment of legal fees and any judgment incurred as a result of the litigation in which the alleged malpractice arose. The Court responded in the affirmative to (1), reasserting an attorney would not be placed in conflict between his client's interests and the interests of the insurer. Thus, the insurer may recover only for the attorney's breach of his duty to his client, when the insurer proves the breach is the proximate cause of damages to the insurer. If the interests of the client are the slightest bit inconsistent with the insurer's interests, there can be no liability of the attorney to the insurer, because the attorney's duty to the client would not be permitted to be affected by the interests of the insurance company. Whether there is any inconsistency between the client's and the insurer's interests in the circumstances of an individual case is a question of law to be answered by the trial court. The Supreme Court declined to answer the second question posed. View "Sentry Select Insurance v. Maybank Law Firm" on Justia Law