March 20, 2013 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

Sigmon v State

Sigmon sought post conviction relief from his death sentence arguing his trial counsel was ineffective. The circuit court denied his petition and the Court affirmed. It held trial counsel was not ineffective for nto objecting to statements in the state’s closing argument as those statements did not minimize the role of the jury in determining whether to sentence Sigmon to death. Trial counsel was nto ineffective for failing to obtain a mitigation charge of intoxication as there was insufficient evidence to prove Sigmon was intoxicated at the time of the murders. Finally, trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to the nonstatutory mitigation charge as the jury chare as whole accurately conveyed the jury’s ability to consider all relevant evidence.

State v Barnes

At Barnes’ trial, the jury reported twice that it was deadlocked. The judge indicated he could order them to deliberate, but, when the foreman said he did not think it would be productive, dismissed them for the day instead. The next morning, the jury returned a guilty verdict. The Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished pinion. The Court reversed. It held that under South Carolina code 14-7-1330, the jury had to consent to deliberations as it had twice reported it was deadlocked and the statement that the judge could order deliberations was coercive. Thus, a new trial was required.

South Carolina Department of Social Services v Sarah W. and Vaughn S.

Mother’s rights to two minor children were terminated on the ground that the children had been in foster care for 15 of the 22 preceding months as set forth in south Carolina Code 63-7-2570(8). The court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished opinion. The Court, 3-2, reversed. The majority held that 2570(8) is constitutional as interpreted by the Court to require that the time in foster care be attributed to actions of the parent. Here, the majority found that the delays in the case were attributable to actions of Mother in that she tested positive for drugs, failed to leave Father who admitted molesting another child of is and failed to otherwise provide a safe home. As the children were now set to be adopted, the majority ordered department to expeditiously implement the family court plan. Justice Pleicones dissented arguing that there was no clear and convincing evidence that Mother was an inadequate parent in that she had met all requirements of the plan except for those which were currently beyond her economic ability to meet such as provide each child with their own room. Additionally, any delay came about due to state action, so, as of the time of the family court order, the required fifteen months in foster care had not occurred. Justice Beatty dissented arguing that 2570(8) was unconstitutional as the fundamental right to custody of one’s child cannot be terminated on the basis of the passage of time. As there was no finding of inadequacy, there is not constitutional basis to terminate parental rights. He noted that courts in Illinois and Nebraska recently held their similar “15 out of 22” ground unconstitutional for similar reasons.

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