Today’s decision from the South Carolina Supreme Court for March 25, 2015

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Today, March 25, 2015, the South Carolina Supreme Court handed down two decisions: State v. Niles and State v. Lewis

In State v. Niles, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ decision. Niles was convicted of murder, armed robbery and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The court of appeals reversed Respondent’s murder conviction and remanded for a new trial, finding the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser- included offense of voluntary manslaughter.  This Court granted the State’s petition for a writ of certiorari to consider the State’s argument that  the court of appeals erred in determining Niles was entitled to a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter because there was no evidence at trial that Niles acted in a sudden heat of passion.

Although there was conflicting testimony regarding whose idea it was to rob the victim and who in fact robbed the victim, it is undisputed that an armed robbery occurred, of which all [involved] were found guilty. The Court noted that Niles did not appeal his conviction. The record reflects that the other two participants were unarmed and that Niles fired the fatal shot, killing the victim. The Court reasoned that “the scheme to rob the victim, coupled with Niles’s decision to arrive at the scene armed with a deadly weapon, discounts any claim that Niles in any way acted in a sudden heat of passion. Rather, Niles clearly planned for the possibility that he might have to discharge his weapon to accomplish the robbery, and did in fact kill the victim.

This Court reversed the court of appeals’ decision holding that the evidence did not warrant a voluntary manslaughter charge.

Justice Pleicones dissented in a separate opinion.

In State v. Lewis, the Court granted certiorari to review the court of appeals’ decision and now dismiss the writ as improvidently granted.

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Today’s decision from the South Carolina Court of Appeals for March 25, 2015

sccourtofappeals1Today, the South Carolina Court of Appeals published a decision in SCDSS v. Patten.

SCDSS v. Patten is an appeal of the family court’s order finding Sidney Patten a vulnerable adult under the Omnibus Adult Protection Act.

Patten was a sixty-three year old man living alone in Rock Hill. The Department of Social Services (DSS) opened an investigation on him based on allegations made relating to his living conditions and reports that he was dirty and had called 911 numerous times claiming persons were damaging his home or property.

Simultaneously with the DSS investigation, Patton was involved with the City of Rock Hill’s Environmental Court due to failure to correct issues with the house. Patton indicated he did not have the money to make the required repairs to get a city permit and have the water and electrical services restored. At times, Patten was using propane tanks to heat his home and warm food, and he had  bottles of water and a bucket functioning as his bathroom. A social worker alerted the city authorities, and after an emergency hearing, the family court determined Patten was a vulnerable adult and should remain in DSS protective custody. Patten appealed this decision.

This Court applied the framework set forth in Doe v. SCDSS, 757 S.E.2d 712 (2014),[in which the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision in determining that Doe was a vulnerable adult under the Act, finding a lack of a causal relationship between Doe’s living conditions and any mental or physical limitation.] The Court concludes that DSS failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, Patten was a vulnerable adult under the Act. The record demonstrates that Patten had been able to sustain himself in relatively good health even though the home was not in a condition that most people would find suitable. The Court, being mindful that circumstances may have changed, reversed and remanded the case back to family court to review Patten’s current status and conduct its hearing in a manner consistent with this opinion.

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Vote for Your Favorite Peeps in Law

game_of_peeps2015  It is now time for the 7th Annual Peeps in Law diorama contest sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA.)  Between March 24th – April 5th, vote on your favorite law related diorama.  Entries are available here, and it looks like Game of Peeps and Blurred Peeps will be making a debut.    Enjoy!

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Jump Start Your Summer Clerkship

index_photo  The Reference Librarians of the Sol Blatt Jr. Law Library will present Jump Start Your Summer Clerkship:  Research Skills, Resources & Techniques on Monday, March 30th, at noon or again at 5:15 p.m. in Mary 101A.  We’ll review available fee and free resources, suggest different strategies for approaching and tackling research assignments, and provide helpful tips for students to ease into their summer clerkships.  Pizza will be provided so sign up on TWEN under CSOL-ALL sign up sheets.  See you there!

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South Carolina Supreme Court Decisions for March 18, 2015

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On Wednesday, March 18, 2015, the South Carolina Supreme Court published three opinions: Dreher v. SCDHEC, The Spriggs Group v. Slivka, and Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty.

In  Dreher v. SCDHEC, the Court affirms, as modified, the court of appeals’ decision in Dreher v. South Carolina Department of Health & Enviromental Control, 730 S.E. 2d 922 (Ct. App. 2012), reversing the Administrative Law Court’s denial of Ann Dreher’s bridge construction permit application.

Dreher had purchased two parcels of property located in Folly Island, South Carolina. The two lots were previously a contiguous tract of high ground property. Prior to Dreher’s purchase, two man-made canals were constructed, separating the two properties. Dreher filed a permit application with DHEC requesting permission to construct a vehicular bridge to connect the two properties. DHEC denied the application citing to Regulation 30-12(N)(2)(c)  that prohibits the agency from issuing a bridge construction permit to “coastal island” less than two acres in size. The East Cooper Avenue property is approximately 0.24 acres in size, and Tract D is approximately 0.84 acres in size. Both parties agreed that if Tract D was a coastal island it did not meet the regulations’s minimum size requirement.

Dreher then requested a hearing before the ALC. The ALC looked to the issue of  whether  Tract D met the definition of a coastal island as described in the Coastal Zone Management Act (“CZMA”) and was therefore applicable to the CZMA regulations.  SC Code Ann. Regs. 30-1 to -21, that defines “coastal island”, established that Folly Island… shall not be deemed a coastal island subject to this section due to [it’s] large size and developed nature.  ALC found that because the island is not considered a coastal island, properties on the island are exempt from the minimum acreage requirement found in Regulation 30-12(N)(2)(c), (restricting eligibility for a bridge-building permit to those coastal islands that are large enough to warrant the impact on public resources). Although, the ALC found Tract D “geologically, geographically and by legal description, is on and within the boundaries of Folly Island”, it concluded that Tract D constituted a coastal island separate and apart from Folly Island. Dreher appealed to the court of appeals which found that because DHEC “failed to challenge” the ALC’s finding that Tract D was part of Folly Island, that the finding became the law of the case. The court of appeals held that because Dreher was not prohibited from building a bridge due to Tract D’s small size, she was entitled to construct the bridge by virtue of Regulation 30-12(F). DHEC appealed.

The Court granted writ of certiorari, to review the court of appeals’ decision on two issues: (1) Whether the court of appeals misapplied the law of the case doctrine, and (2) Whether Tract D is exempt from the minimum acreage requirement found in Regulation 30-12(N)(2)(c)?

On the first issue, the Court found that the court of appeals erred in applying the doctrine so as to bar DHEC [the prevailing party] from raising the additional sustaining ground [that Tract D was geologically, geographically and by legal description, on and within the boundaries of Folly Island]. The Court reasoned that the court of appeals should have considered whether Tract D is a “coastal island” as defined in the regulations.

On the second issue, the Court looked to the regulatory interpretation of the statute. Regulation 30-1(D)(11) broadly defines “coastal islands”, but then specifically exempts certain islands including Folly Island from the general definition. Further Tract D is found to be on and within Folly Island, supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, the Court agrees that Tract D is not a “coastal island” in and of itself; rather, it is  part of Folly Island, which is specifically exempted in the regulation. Thus, the minimum acreage requirement found in Regulation 30-12(N)(2)(d) does not bar Dreher’s bridge construction permit application. The Court affirms the result reached by the lower court through different reasoning.

Justices Pleicones and Hearn concurred in part and dissented in part in a separate opinion.

In The Spriggs Group v. Slivka, the Court directs the Court of Appeals to depublish its’ opinion in The Spriggs Group, P.C. v. Slivka, 738 S.E.2d 495 (Ct. App. 2013). The Court then dismissed the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted.

In Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty, the Court reverses the court of appeals’ decision in Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty, Inc., 732 S.E.2d 662 (2012)., and found that Lewis was an employee not an independent contractor.

LeAndra Lewis was injured by an errant bullet at Studio 54 Boom Boom Room (the Club) while she was working as an exotic dancer. She filed for workers compensation and was denied; the single commissioner found that Lewis was an independent contractor. She appealed and the appellate panel of the Worker’s Compensation Commission affirmed the order. Later, the court of appeals also affirmed in a split decision, the majority finding that Lewis was an independent contractor.

This Court examined whether the court of appeals erred in finding Lewis was an independent contractor and not an employee of the Club. The Court applied a balancing test of  factors based on the totality of the circumstances including: right to or exercise of control, furnishing of equipment, method of payment, and right to fire to determine Lewis’s status. The Court found that the weight of the evidence weighs in favor of finding Lewis was an employee of the Club and is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. And thus, it reversed the court of appeals’ decision. The Court, then, remanded the issue of Lewis’s compensation rate to the court of appeals for consideration.

Justice Pleicones dissented in a separate opinion.

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South Carolina Court of Appeals’ Decisions for March 18, 2015

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On Wednesday, March 18th, 2015, the South Carolina Court of Appeals published two decisions: State v. Slocumb and State v. Lynch.

In State v. Slocumb, the Court affirms the trial court’s decision to sentence Conrad Slocumb to an aggregate sentence of one hundred thirty years for offenses he committed when he was a juvenile.

In 1996, Slocumb was convicted of 1st degree burglary 1st degree criminal sexual conduct (“CSC 1st”), kidnapping, escape and robbery. The Honorable James W. Johnson Jr. sentenced him to three terms of life imprisonment without parole (“LWOP”) for 1st degree burglary, CSC 1st, and for the kidnapping that was based on a prior 1993 conviction for CSC 1st. Slocumb was also sentenced to fifteen years and five years for the robbery and escape convictions respectively.

Slocumb appealed his sentencing and simultaneously filed a post-conviction relief (PCR) challenging his 1993 conviction. The Supreme Court granted relief finding that the trial court was without jurisdiction to accept the 1993 plea. That plea was the basis for the life sentences Slocumb received under South Carolina’s recidivist statute, S.C. Code Ann. § 17-25-45.

In March 2000, Judge Johnson resentenced Slocumb to life imprisonment for burglary, thirty years for kidnapping, thirty years for CSC 1st, fifteen years for robbery, and five years for escape. All terms were to be consecutively served. The sentences were vacated by this Court finding that the trial court did not have jurisdiction due to remaining matters pending on appeal. In February 2004, Judge Johnson reestablished Slocumb’s sentences as previously ordered, to be consecutively served.

In January 2011, Slocumb filed a Motion for Resentencing in the South Carolina circuit court requesting to be resentenced in accordance with Graham v. Florida, which held that life without parole is unconstitutional when imposed on juvenile non-homicide offenders. Simultaneously, Slocumb petitioned for a writ of habeaus corpus to the U.S. District Court. Judge Herlong, Senior U.S. District Judge granted the habeaus petition on the issue of “whether he was entitled to have his life sentence for burglary vacated pursuant to Graham“. Judge Herlong ordered Slocumbs to be resentenced by the state court on the burglary sentence and dismissed the remainder of Slocumb’s claims without prejudice.

At his resentencing, Judge Benjamin resentenced Slocumb to fifty years on the burglary conviction, consecutive, and left the remaining sentences intact. Slocumb appealed the decision, arguing that it was the functional equivalent of a life sentence without parole and violated the Eighth Amendment probation against cruel and unusual punishment.

This Court found that Judge Benjamin made no error in refusing to entertain Slocumb’s request to reconsider sentencing on all of his convictions because the district court’s directive included only reconsideration of the sentence for the burglary conviction. Further, Slocumb had a pending independent motion in state court to reconsider all of Slocumb’s convictions remaining. Thus, the Court affirmed the decision of the lower court.

In State v. Lynch, Lynch appealed his conviction of one count of grand larceny and two counts of murder. He was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for grand larceny and life with the possibility of parole for the murders of Portia Washington and her granddaughter.

The case arises out of the disappearance of Lynch’s girlfriend, Portia Washington and her granddaughter. Both went missing on June 10, 2006 in South Carolina, the same day that Washington’s car went missing from her house. Their bodies have not been recovered. On June, 14, 2006, Lynch was stopped for speeding in Fort Hancock, Texas in Washington’s car. He told the officer he was traveling from Mississippi to Arizona to pick up his wife. Three days later, Lynch was accosted by a customs and border protection agent in Blaine, Washington after he was refused entry into Canada.  A criminal history check revealed that Lynch was listed as a missing person in South Carolina. The West Columbia Police Department (“WCPD”) verified that Lynch was a suspect in a double homicide. Subsequently, Lynch was arrested for grand larceny and transferred into the custody of the West Columbia Police Department.

At the trial, the State provided several witnesses that confirmed Lynch and Portia Washington resided together, that there were problems with the relationship, and that Portia did not allow Lynch to drive her car. As well, an expert in blood stain analysis testified that blood stains found in the apartment they shared was an indicator that something other than a natural incident occurred in the apartment, specifically an act of violence.

As a part of his defense, Lynch presented evidence that the WCPD had several other leads that they delayed in following up on.  Lynch also had an expert in forensic pathology testify that there was no indication of dragging down the hallway of the apartment and no significant volume of blood to soak through the carpet. Following the trial, Lynch was convicted of one count of grand larceny and two counts of murder.

On appeal, Lynch argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict because the State failed to present substantial circumstantial evidence that he killed the victims, that he was present at the scene of the crime, and that he stole Portia’s car.

The Court found that the trial court did not err in denying the motion for a directed verdict because viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, there was substantial circumstantial evidence of Lynch’s guilt.

The Court also rejected Lynch’s argument that the trial court erred in not giving a jury instruction regarding how to use and evaluate circumstantial evidence. The Court reasoned that Lynch’s argument was without merit because his requested circumstantial charge was based on the “reasonable hypothesis” language from State v. Edwards, which the Supreme Court deemed unnecessary in State v. Logan.

Finally, Lynch argued that the trial court erred in not suppressing evidence seized in connection with his arrest because his arrest warrant for grand larceny was not supported by probable cause. The Court reviewed the two instances Lynch’s belongings were searched at the border and following his arrest. The Court found that the trial court did not err in refusing to suppress the items seized at the border patrol. The Court reasoned that because Lynch conceded to the initial search of his bags by border patrol, therefore the search was lawful.  For the search pursuant to the arrest, Lynch argued that omissions made by detectives in the processing of obtaining the warrant rendered the warrant defective. The Court found that Lynch failed to show a violation under Franks. The Court reasoned that based upon the information that the WCPD detectives had at the time, the information presented to the magistrate was sufficient to establish probable cause.

Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

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Touch Screens Installed

touch screen The library is replacing embedded Equitrac keypads with Touch Screens on library printers.   Instructions are attached to the printers and were also shared with students via email.  Please stop by either the Help or Reference Desk if you have questions.

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