Supreme Court Watch: 2013 Year in Review

2013 was a major year in criminal law for the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Interviews in Child Sexual Abuse Cases – In January 2013, our Supreme Court decided State v. Kromah, hopefully putting to rest prosecution attempts to improperly bolster child witnesses in criminal sexual conduct cases.  Kromah is the most recent of numerous cases holding that a child interviewer is prohibited from offering an opinion about the child’s credibility.  Kromah, however, made it clear that the trial court should not qualify the interviewer as an expert witness.  Click here to read more about Finally Finishing Forensic Interviews. 

Death Penalty – Our Supreme Court reversed two death penalty convictions.  In February 2013, in State v. Rivera, the Court held Rivera had a right to testify even though his lawyer advised against it and refused to call Rivera to the witness stand.  In October 2013, in State v Barnes, the Court held that the trial judge erred by not allowing Barnes to represent himself over his lawyers’ objections.

Satellite Monitoring – In July 2013, in State v. Dykes, although finding satellite monitoring of sex offenders constitutional, our Supreme Court held that due process requires judicial review after ten years to determine whether continued monitoring is justified.  Our Court summarily rejected an ex post facto challenge in a footnote.  Our Court’s position on the ex post facto issue is at odds with appellate decisions in other states.  Click here to read more about State v. Dykes

In August 2013, in In re Justin B., our Court held that satellite monitoring of juveniles, based solely on a juvenile adjudication, does not violate the eighth amendment.  Because of the extraordinary capacity of juveniles for rehabilitation, Justin B. is arguably in conflict with the United States Supreme Court cases of Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. AlabamaClick here to read more about Special Concerns Involving Juvenile Sex Offender Registration. 

Circumstantial Evidence – In August 2013, in State v. Logan, our Supreme Court approved a revised jury instruction regarding circumstantial evidence.  Our Court is steadfastly committed to requiring the prosecution to prove more than a mere suspicion of guilt.  Click here to read more about the New Circumstantial Evidence Jury Instruction.  

Castle Doctrine – In August 2013, in State v. Isaac, our Supreme Court reversed course and held that Castle Doctrine rulings are no longer immediately appealable.  After the decision in Isaac, the Court dismissed the appeals in several cases that would have clarified South Carolina’s Castle Doctrine.   The Castle Doctrine, which is a doctrine of self defense, can be implicated in murder, homicide, and assault and battery cases.

Directed Verdict & Waiver Doctrine – In December 2013, in State v. Hepburn, our Supreme Court reaffirmed that our state follows the waiver doctrine, meaning that a defendant can supply the missing link in the state’s evidence for purposes of reviewing the trial court’s directed verdict motion.  The Court, however, held that South Carolina also follows the exception to the waiver doctrine which prohibits consideration of evidence presented by a jointly tried co-defendant when reviewing the trial court’s denial of the directed verdict motion.  The Court, thus, directed a verdict acquitting Ms. Hepburn.

Conflict of Interest – In December 2013, in Jordan v. State, a post-conviction relief case, our Supreme Court vacated a conviction because Jordan’s trial counsel had an actual conflict of interest because he also represented a third party who was a prime suspect in the same crime.  Because of the conflict, Jordan’s lawyer did not present evidence of third party guilt.

State v. Langford 2013 ended without our Supreme Court implementing State v. Langford, the landmark case ending solicitor docket control.  Thus, the year ended with solicitors controlling the criminal dockets in violation of the Separation of Powers provision of the South Carolina Constitution.  Hopefully, in 2014, the Court will finally appoint the stakeholders committee, which would include members of the criminal defense bar, as required by the order denying the petitions for rehearing in Langford. Click hear to read the order denying rehearing in Langford and providing for a stakeholders committee.  

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.

Disclosure: Charles Grose represented the South Carolina Public Defender Association as amicus curie in State v. Langford, the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as amicus curie in State v. Hepburn, and individual client as amicus curie in State v. Dykes.