December 4, 2013 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

State v Watkins

The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed Watkins conviction adopting a rule that a judge who presides over a post-conviction relief hearing must recuse grant a motion to recuse at a subsequent trial on the same case. The Court reversed holding that judges in that situation are not required to automatically recuse themselves because those judges are not called upon to review their own conduct at the subsequent trial.

State v Curry

Curry sought immunity under South Carolina’s stand your ground act, 16-11-440(C) which the trail court denied. The court charged the jury on both self-defense and the act. Curry was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 18 years in prison. The Court, with one justice dissenting in part, affirmed. The Court held that 440(C) only eliminates the duty to retreat and the defendant seeking immunity still needs to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he is without fault in bringing the difficulty, feared for his life or feared serious bodily injury and that fear was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. Here, the evidence presented a jury question and denial of immunity was proper. The majority rejected the jury instruction claim holding any ambiguity was in Curry’s favor as the castle doctrine in 440(C) is unavailable to social guests like Curry in this case. The majority added that extension of the doctrine to guests would encourage more violence contrary to sound public policy. The dissent argued the jury instructions were confusing and the trail court used the wrong standard to evaluate the 440(C) claim and would therefore remand for a new trial.

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