July 16, 2014 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

In the Interest of Steven W.

Steven W. challenged his delinquency adjudication arguing his right to jury trial was violated. The Court affirmed. It held there is no federal constitutional right to a jury in delinquency proceedings as the United States Supreme Court has so declared. It also held that there is no state right as juvenile delinquency proceedings are fundamentally different from the criminal prosecution of juveniles used in 1868 when the operative provision of state constitution was adopted. These differences include who can being a case, the burden of proof, the options available to the court upon a finding of delinquency and the fact that a delinquency adjudication is not a criminal conviction.

In the Matter of William Jones Rivers III

Rivers and his partner settled over 20 cases without client consent, lied to clients and others about the settlements, failed to pay medical liens and misappropriated nearly $2 million. He agreed to disbarment and the Court disbarred hm. Rivers is required to fulfil all the terms of his federal criminal sentence and reimburse the Layer’s Fund for monies distributed to wronged clients.

State v Hewins

After Hewins was convicted in municipal court of an open container violation, he moved to suppress drug evidence found after he was issued a warning ticket in his circuit court drug proceeding. The circuit court ruled his motion was subject to collateral estoppel and denied the motion on that basis. The Court, with one justice concurring in part and dissenting in part, reversed. The majority held that because it could conceive of circumstances where the state could use collateral estoppel offensively in very narrow circumstances without violating due process, it would not categorically bar the practice. It emphasized that such stations will be very rare. It also held that the circuit court erred when it relied on a factually distinguishable case involving a search incident to arrest with two interwoven charges as here the search was alleged to occur after the traffic stop was complete and the drug and container charges were entirely separate. The majority held collateral estoppel did not bar the motion to suppress here as the issue was not litigated in the container proceeding, suppressing the drug evidence was unnecessary in the container proceeding as the drug evidence was irrelevant to that charge and the small fine in the container proceeding did not incentivize Hewins to bring the motion. As a matter of judicial economy, the majority reviewed the motion to suppress and held it should be granted as presence in a drug area, nervousness and prompt denial of drug possession do not create reasonable suspicion of a crime. The partial dissent argued that the case should have been remanded for the circuit court to review the motion to suppress in the first instance is and

State v Wills

The Court, 3-2, affirmed the admission of statements made by Wills under a proffer agreement holding the protections of South Carolina Rules of Evidence 410 can be waived and were waived here under the plain language of the proffer agreement signed by Wills and his attorney. The dissent argued that plea negotiations are different from other statements as the bar on their admission into evidence allows for the free exchange between prosecution and defense. Thus, a Miranda waiver would be insufficient to waive 410 rights. The dissent also argued that e waiver here was not applicable because the state voided the proffer agreement including the waiver provisions. Thus, the statements were both involuntary and inadmissible under 410. The dissent stated its view that 410 waivers should not allow the introduction of statements in the government case in chief lest the waiver of 410 rights become a de facto waiver of jury trial rights and the use of polygraph examinations to void the proffer agreement for deception puts the state in the position of suborning perjury and relying on known false statements to obtain convictions in violation of the very foundation of our system of justice.

Board of Trustees for Fairfield County School District v State of South Carolina

District sued seeking a declaration that South Carolina Code 59-63-485 is an unconstitutional special law. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the State and the Court, 3-2, affirmed. The majority held that district failed to present any evidence that the legislature lacked la logical basis or sound reason for enacting 485 and thus summary judgment against it was proper. The dissent argued that 485 is unconstitutional as its transfer provisions are in conflict with the general transfer provisions applicable in all other counties and there is no logical basis or sound reasoning in support as there were no statistical or quantitative studies before the legislature demonstrating transfers between District and an adjoining district were unique or exigent which could justify the special act.

State v Ramsey

Ramsey moved to dismiss his domestic violence case as the officer who issued the uniform ticket did not witness the offense. The magistrate agreed and dismissed. The circuit court and Court of Appeals affirmed as did the Court with one justice concurring in result only. The majority held that the applicable state as of the date of Ramsey’s offense limited the issuance of tickets to crimes committed in the presence of the officer. As the officer was not present, the ticket was improperly issued and the case was properly dismissed. The majority held the contrary opinion of the Attorney General was unpersuasive as “presence of an officer” and a “freshly committed crime” are not synonymous and the legislature knows how to authorize the issuance of tickets for fresh crimes and indeed did so for the uniform ticket statute for cases after July 2013.

Perry v Bullock

Perry field a freedom of information claim seeking an autopsy report of a man shot and killed by police. Bullock refused to deliver the report arguing it was an exempt medical record. The circuit court agreed and denied Perry’s request. The Court, 4-1, affirmed. The majority held that medical records under the Freedom of information Act are records which contain medical information. It held autopsy reports contain medical information as the autopsy is a comprehensive examination of a person’s remains and contains information about disease and other health matters. The majority distinguished the report form a death certificate (which must be disclosed) noting the certificate merely lists cause of death while the report is comprehensive in scope. The dissent argued that because autopsy reports must, under South Carolina Code 17-5-28, be furnished to anyone to whom the cause of death is a material issue, release is not prohibited under the medical records exception.

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