Today’s Decisions from the South Carolina Court of Appeals

sccourtofappeals The South Carolina Court of Appeals published decisions in Smith v. State and Gonzales v. State.

In Smith v. State, Orlando Smith appealed the circuit court’s application of the seven-year time limit for post-conviction DNA testing for defendants who plead guilty or no contest. Smith argues that he plead not guilty and the statute has no time limit for those defendants.

Pursuant to SC Code Section 17-28-30 (B), “A person who plead guilty or nolo contendere to at least one of the offenses enumerated in subsection (A), was subsequently convicted of or adjudicated delinquent for the offense, is currently incarcerated for the offense, and asserts he is innocent of the offense may apply for forensic DNA testing of his DNA and any physical evidence or biological material related to his conviction or adjudication no later than seven years from the date of sentencing.”

The circuit court denied Smith’s application for PCR, concluding that the Application was time barred by section 17-28-30(B).  Smith, on appeal, maintained his argument that due to his pleading of not guilty only subsection A applied to him and it did not include a limitations period.

This Court agreed with Smith finding that the circuit court erred in omitting the phrase “who plead guilty or no contest” in its recitation of subsection B and its finding that it applied to defendants who plead not guilty. The statute, when read in full, is interpreted as applying seven-year limits only to those who plead guilty or no contest. Accordingly, the Court reversed the circuit court’s decision and remanded the case for the court to consider Smith’s application.

Gonzales v. State was a post-conviction relief (PCR) action. Gonzales argued that the PCR Court erred in finding trial counsel was not ineffective for continuing to represent him despite a conflict of interest.

Gonzales testified that Dina Perez, who was like a father figure to him, introduced him to the drug business. He stated that he was arrested while delivering narcotics to Perez, and that Perez and his mother paid trial counsel to represent him. Shortly after Perez was arrested he retained the same trial counsel to represent him. Gonzales stated that after Perez’s arrest, he asked trial counsel if anything could be done to negotiate a better deal because he had information to use against Perez. Gonzales stated trial counsel responded, “he couldn’t hear this.”

Gonzales testified that he would have fully cooperated with state and federal authorities if trial counsel had informed him that he might be able to get a good deal for himself.  He asserted that he would have wanted a different lawyer had trial counsel indicated there could be a conflict representing both  him and Perez. The PCR court found Gonzales failed to prove trial counsel had a conflict of interest during Gonzales’s trial because none of the parties informed trial counsel that the two cases were related and that both defendants were involved in each other’s charges. Additionally the PCR court found trial counsel to be credible and Gonzales to not be credible.

This Court recognized the existence of a potential conflict, but  found that Gonzales had not shown the conflict of interest adversely affected counsel’s performance due to the PCR court’s credibility findings of the trial counsel. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the PCR courts denial of PCR.

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