February 5, 2014 South Carolina Court of Appeals published opinions

Wilds v State

Wilds sought post-conviction relief arguing his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to certain restrictions on cross examination and appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise a jury instruction issue on appeal. The circuit court found appellate counsel ineffective and trial counsel not ineffective. Both parties petitioned for certiorari which the Court granted. The panel affirmed. It held appellate counsel was ineffective as the jury instruction on accomplice liability had no support in the record for Wilds was the only person identified as the shooter and the instruction enabled the jury to reach a verdict of guilty. As there was no evidence appellate counsel made a tactical decision to omit the issue, a new trial was properly ordered. As to trial counsel, the panel held any error was harmless as the accomplices were vigorously cross examined and there was DNA evidence connecting wilds to the shooting.

Smith v State

Smith petitioned for post-conviction relief arguing his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the state’s sentencing recommendation when his plea agreement required the state to make no recommendation. His petition was denied. The panel reversed and remanded for a new sentencing. It held the failure to object or otherwise bring to the sentencing judge’s attention the plea agreement term requiring the state to make no recommendation was deficient performance under South Carolina Supreme Court precedent. It also found prejudice as Smith testified he would not have entered a guilty plea if he knew the state would recommend the maximum sentence and the state had never made Smith aware that his memory problems would result is his plea agreement being voided.

Riley v Ford Motor Company

Riley sued Ford for wrongful death alleging the door latch system on her husband’s truck was defective. The jury returned a verdict for Riley. The trial court denied ford’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, denied its motion for setoff and granted riley’s motion to increase the damages. The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part. It affirmed on Ford’ motion for judgment as the evidence demonstrated that the door lock system used on prior models eliminated the risk the door would open on impact and was superior in safety terms though more costly. Thus, there was an alternative feasible design. There was also evidence that the particular latch system could allow the door to open with minimal impact. Thus, the design was defective. The panel reversed as to set off holding that on de novo review, most of the settlement with the negligent other driver was for the wrongful death claim and thus Ford should be allowed to reduce the damage award by $20,000.00. The panel reversed as to increased damages holding that the trail judge’s disagreement with the jury’s valuation of noneconomic damages was not a compelling reason to grant the motion to increase damages.


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