February 26, 2014 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

Robinson v State

Robinson moved to suppress evidence seized forma car in which he was a passenger. The trial court denied his motion and Robinson was subsequently convicted of armed robbery and weapons violations. The Court, with 2 justices concurring, affirmed. The majority held that police had reasonable suspicion justifying the detention of the car because the car was parked in the lot of a closed church at 10 pm and it was reasonable to suspect the car was parked without permission. The majority upheld the admission of the evidence holding that based on the facts known to the police (namely the car had the number of suspects in basically the clothing worn by suspects in robbery minutes before), the police had probable cause to arrest for armed robbery. Adopting the rule that the trunk of a car is part of the passenger compartment if it can be access without getting out of the car, the majority held the search was lawful as the seat was partially down allowing access. Thus, there was no 4th Amendment violation. The concurrence argued the initial contact was a community welfare check and Robinson’s nervousness when officers approach provided reasonable suspicion for continued detention. The concurrence would affirmed the denial of the suppression motion because Robinson did not challenge the circuit court’s ruling the search was constitutional under eh automobile exception.

State v Middleton

Middleton requested a jury instruction for a lesser included offense in his attempted murder trial. The circuit court refused and Middleton was convicted of attempted murder. The court, 4-1, affirmed. The majority held that the circuit court erred in refusing to give the charge as the lesser offense of first degree assault and battery does not require injury under one subsection. However, applying harmless error analysis, the majority held that the evidence that Middleton drove to the passenger side of a car and fired numerous rounds into the car could only support a conclusion of attempted murder. Thus, there was no error. The dissent argued that failure to give a lesser included offense instruction is per se error and would have reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Wachovia Bank, National Association v Blackburn

Wachovia sued to foreclose on Blackburn’s mortgage. Blackburn counterclaimed and sought a jury trial. The circuit court denied the jury trial based on a waiver in the loan documentation. The Court of Appeals reversed in part holding intentional torts may be excluded from jury waivers. The Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. Adopting a modified rule in equity cases, the Court held that a valid jury waiver will eliminate jury trial rights in compulsory counterclaims. Here, whether Blackburn’s claims were legal or equitable, there was right to jury trial as the waiver was effective and there is no right to a jury for either equitable or permissive claims. The Court also affirmed the finding that the waiver was valid as Blackburn is charged with the knowledge pf the contents of the loan documents, the waiver was in large print and was located just above the signature line.

Beach First National Bank v Estate of Gurnham

Bank sued to foreclose on property belonging to Estate. Bank obtained a deficiency judgment against estate and sought to have its claim approved. The probate court granted summary judgment to Bank approving the claim and the circuit court affirmed. The Court reversed. It held that under the South Carolina Probate Code, secured creditors can only have a claim for deficiency approved if ti is field within the one year claim period set out in 62-3-803. The court held that 803 is nonclaim statute that eliminate a court’s power to adjudicate an untimely claim not merely a statute of limitation. Applying here, Bank failed to file a claim for the deficiency within one year of the decedent’s death and is thus barred from seeking deficiency judgment from the other assets of the Estate. The Court also held equitable considerations paly no part in the analysis.


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