The South Carolina Supreme Court published three opinions:
State v. Cain was an appeal of a criminal conviction for trafficking methamphetamine. Appellant argued the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict because the State produced insufficient evidence as to the requisite amount of drugs for trafficking.
The court of appeals found the core of the argument not preserved for appellate review and affirmed the findings of the trial court. This Court reversed the appellate court finding Appellant’s argument is preserved.
Likewise, Gonzales v. State was an appeal of a criminal conviction for trafficking methamphetamine, in which, Appellant argued his trial counsel had a conflict of interest which adversely affected trial counsel’s performance. Both the PCR court and the court of appeals denied relief. This Court examined whether or not the appellate court erred in holding that in order to prevail on a claim of ineffective counsel that the petitioner was required to prove trial counsel recognized an actual conflict of interest.
This Court reversed the appellate court’s decision that suggested that ” only an attorney who intentionally violates his duty of loyalty has a conflict of interest“. This Court further holds that this assertion is an error of law and contrary to the Court’s precedent, which states [w]hile trial counsel’s failure to recognize the actual conflict may have resulted in his inability to provide effective counsel, his recognition of the conflict is not required to show it adversely affected trial counsel’s performance. See Duncan v. State, 281 S.C. at 438 (1984).
The Court found that regardless an attorney recognizes an actual conflict of interest, if the conflict adversely affected the attorney’s performance the applicant has established his entitlement to relief. Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals.
In Ramirez v. State, the Court examined the issue of whether a severely mentally retarded individual should be afforded post-conviction relief where his plea counsel failed to request an independent competency evaluation prior to this guilty plea.
The PCR court denied relief finding plea counsel was not deficient and that there was no evidence of prejudice. The court of appeals disagreed finding that counsel was deficient but affirmed the PCR court’s prejudice finding applying the “any evidence” standard. This Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the court of appeals’ opinion and held that the PCR Court erred in denying Ramirez’s application for relief. This Court found that there was clearly established evidence at the PCR hearing from the doctor’s report, that established a reasonable likelihood that Ramirez was incompetent to plead guilty. Court precedent establishes that a PCR application need only show there was a reasonable probability he was incompetent at the time of his plea. See Matthews v. State, 385 S.C. at 459-60 (2004). Accordingly, the Court reversed the holding that Appellant was not prejudiced by the deficiency and affirmd the court’s finding of deficient performance by plea counsel.
J. Pleicones dissented in a separate opinion.