August 28, 2013 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

State v Cope

Cope was convicted of the rape and murder of his daughter. The Court of appeals affirmed. The Court, 3-2, affirmed as modified. The majority held the trail court did nto err in excluding four incidents involving a codefendant because those acts were committed after the crime here, did nto involve a child victim, did not all include rape and there was no common scheme to gain entrance into a house. The majority also held that because the evidence did meet the standard under rule of evidence 404, the trial court did nto err in denying Cope’s motion for a severance as the evidence would nto have been admitted in a spate trial. The majority held that the trail court did not err in excluding comments by the codefendant tot eh effect that he would get away with killing a girl because there was no evidence to corroborate that the statement was even made. The majority held that the trail court did not err in excluding testimony from a false confession expert because the specific cases the witness wanted to mention would have confused the jury and the witness was allowed to testify that many cases of false confession have occurred where the defendant was later exonerated. The majority finally held that there was sufficient evidence to submit a conspiracy charge to the jury given Cope’s confessions, forensic evidence that the other defendant was in the house on the evening of the crime, the lack of forced entry  and the impossibility of the codefendant to maneuver around the house in the dark on his own. The dissent argued that other crimes evidence should have been admitted as all five incidents were stranger attacks, which is very rare, took place within a short period of time within a five mile radius and in all cases the codefendant acted alone. Thus, the dissent argued that the exclusion of the evidence prejudiced Cope by denying him a reasonable opportunity to present a complete defense. The dissent also argued the codefendant’s statement about getting away with murder should have been admitted as in context there was only one child murder the comment could have been describing and the only objection was to weight not admissibility.

Poch v Bayshore Concrete Products/South Carolina, Inc.

Poch sued Bayshore and its corporate parent seeking damages for the death of her husband in a construction accident. The trail court granted Bayshore summary judgment ruling the workers compensation system provided the exclusive remedy. The Court of appeals affirmed. The Court, 3-2, affirmed as modified. The majority held that Poch’s husband was the statutory employee of Bayshore as the construction of the trench which collapsed was an important part of Bayshore’s business, was a routine part of the business and Bayshore had been doing similar work before Poch’s husband started work on the project. The majority held that the Court of Appeals improperly used a contractor/subcontractor framework in evaluating the parent company’s liability and should have used the alter ego test instead. Applying here, the majority held that the balance of factors supported finding the companies are alter egos including the companies failure o maintain separate identities, near identity of the board and officers, the parent’s payment of all bills for Bayshore and retention of Bayshore’s records at its headquarters, the parent’s hiring and firing of South Carolina employees and the participation in the same business activities. The majority held that statutory employers can lose immunity through failing to obtain workers compensation insurance noting that Court of Appeals had misunderstood precedent in ruling otherwise. Here, the majority held that there was affidavit evidence that Bayshore or its parent purchased insurance and thus immunity attached to both entities. The dissents argued that mere assertions of coverage, even in affidavits, are insufficient to prove coverage and in any event the evidence can only be viewed as proving the company’s chose to self-insure. One dissent also argued that because the companies had separate identities, boards and separate books and records, they were not alter egos.

16 Jade Street, LLC v Aten

Aten was held personally liable for construction defects on project over his objections that an LLC actually contracted for the work. The Court, with one justice concurring in result only, reversed. It held that the South Carolina Residential Home Builders Act, SC Code 49-59-400 et seq. does not impose civil liability on licensed builders such as Aten as nothing in the language authorizes suit and violation of the act only results in action against a license. Thus, the Court reversed.

In the Interest of Justin B.

Justin B. challenged the lifetime electronic monitoring imposed as part of his juvenile sentence for criminal sexual conduct. The Court, with one justice concurring in result only, affirmed as modified. The Court held that monitoring is not punishment as the legislature did not intend it to be punishment, it is not historically understood as punishment, the monitor is unobtrusive, any stigma form monitoring is incidental to the scheme and there is no affirmative disability or restraint such as being barred from certain jobs or increased incarceration. However, the Court noted that all monitored offenders must be given periodic opportunities for judicial review and modified the sentence to include that opportunity.

State v Gamble

Gamble was convicted of heroin trafficking. The Court, 4-1, reversed. It held that State failed to provide any evidence which demonstrated the arresting officer who discovered the heroin had probable cause to arrest Gamble. While this is largely the result of the state’s inability to bring in the hearsay statements of a deceased confidential informant, that did not excuse the State form its obligation to provide evidence of probable cause. The majority rejected the contention that this holding somehow rewarded a criminal as 4th Amendment rights are sacrosanct and allowing admission of evidence in the absence of lawful arrest would eviscerate those rights. The dissent argued that Gamble deliberately avoided a suppression hearing, thus conceding probable cause and should not be rewarded for his tactics. The dissent also argued the heroin was cumulative to the testimony of the officer and thus the conviction should be upheld on that ground also.

Hill v Bell

The United State third Circuit certified the question of whether South Carolina recognizes the putative spouse doctrine. The Court answered no as the doctrine is contrary to the public policy of the state.

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