SC Supreme Court Watch: Update on Implementation of State v. Langford

New concerns arose today about the implementation of State v. Langford, the landmark case that ended solicitor docket control in South Carolina. These concerns center around whether the Judiciary’s historical deference to Solicitors will actually end.

On June 12, 2013, a blog post entitled “Constitutional Crisis: General Sessions Court Docket Management” pointed out that “over six months have passed since Langford ended solicitor docket control. Yet, in the absence of guidance from our Supreme Court, solicitor docket control continues in violation of the state constitution.” That post also discussed the Supreme Court’s plans to form a Stakeholders Committee—including Clerks of Court, Solicitors, Public Defenders, members of the private criminal defense bar, and other Stakeholders in the criminal justice system—to develop collaborative management of General Sessions Court dockets.

Apparently, there have been developments that do not involve all criminal justice system Stakeholders.

According to an article entitled “Criminal Case Backlog in SC Focus of Reform Effort,” written by Tim Smith, on July 3, 2013, in The Greenville News, also published in The State, South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal has “met with an ‘informal working group’ of several solicitors and two lawmakers who once worked as prosecutors, Rep. Tommy Pope of Union and Sen. Greg Hembree of North Myrtle Beach, to come up with a new plan” for managing General Sessions Court dockets. This article quoted the Chief Justice as saying a “new plan will be unveiled to clerks and the judiciary this summer and should result in new orders by the fall.” The process outlined in The Greenville News article is very different from what was previously outlined by the Supreme Court.

This process raises three important concerns about the implementation of State v. Langford. First, the other Stakeholders should be included in the process as previously outlined by the Court. Second, a system created by current and former prosecutors, without any input from the other Stakeholders, is likely to repeat many of the mistakes of the former system that the Court declared unconstitutional in Langford. Third, excluding other Stakeholders and allowing only one party to the litigation to have input into the new system raises separation of powers concerns, which is the very reason why the Supreme Court held solicitor docket control unconstitutional in Langford.

Participation by all Stakeholders is necessary if South Carolina is going to create a modern criminal justice system.

Click one of these links to read State v. Langford, “Constitutional Crisis: General Sessions Court Docket Management,” and “Criminal Case Backlog in SC Focus of Reform Effort” by Tim Smith.

Disclosure: Charles Grose represented the South Carolina Public Defender Association as amicus curie in State v. Langford.

About SC Supreme Court Watch: SC Supreme Court Watch is a recurring series dedicated to identifying potentially significant criminal law issues pending before the Court and reporting administrative actions by the Court involving our state’s criminal justice system.