In Mangal v. State, our Supreme Court allowed a conviction for first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor to stand in the face of a disturbing combination of ineffective assistance of trial and post-conviction relief (PCR) counsel. Mangal’s trial counsel failed to object to expert testimony that improperly bolstered the testimony of the child, and his PCR lawyer failed to raise that issue in Mangal’s PCR application. Our Supreme Court held the issue was not preserved for appellate review. Despite the tragic result for Mangal, there are three important takeaways from this decision.
First, our Supreme Court did not criticize the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that a medical doctor improperly bolstered the credibility if the child by diagnosing child sexual abuse, despite a normal medical exam, based on the history (allegations) provided by the child. Eliciting such opinion testimony appears to be a current, statewide prosecution strategy as the Solicitors Association assembled amicus support for this strategy. Criminal defense lawyers should remain vigilant and object to such testimony.
Second, our Supreme Court “encourage[d] trial courts in PCR cases to use the discretion [it] grant[s] them on procedural matters to find reasonable ways—within the flexibility of our Rules—to reach the merits of substantial issues.” Rule 71.1 of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedures provides:
Counsel shall be given a reasonable time to confer with the applicant. Counsel shall insure that all available grounds for relief are included in the application and shall amend the application if necessary.
Counsel, therefore, must prepare a PCR case well in advance of the evidentiary hearing to make sure all the allegations are included in an amended PCR application.
Third, our Supreme Court is willing to allow substantial claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel to be forced into federal habeas corpus review, making it even more important that PCR counsel properly prepare the case for an evidentiary hearing.