State v. Theodore Manning, App. No. 2015-204, S.C. S. Ct, filed 9/7/16, or, Presumptively Innocent Defendants Get Same Due Process as Convicted Sex Offenders
Not good news on the Castle Doctrine front and likely to promote additional litigation on the issue in every case where the issue arises.
Manning shot his girlfriend who was in his house as an invitee. They argued. She was ultimately shot, but the circumstances of that shooting were the basis of the Castle Doctrine hearing that Manning sought before he was tried for murder (as an aside, this was a murder trial, but Manning was ultimately only convicted of manslaughter which, in my opinion illustrates that very material facts were in dispute in this litigation).
The trial court judge only allowed a very truncated Castle Doctrine hearing. As we find out from Chief Justice Pleicones’s dissent, the trial court judge denied that the Castle Doctrine even applied to this case, and denied Manning’s request to call a forensic and ballistics expert to testify in support of his self-defense theory. So, given those limitations, it appears that all the court had before it was a statement taken from Manning during the investigation of the shooting and arguments of counsel which, of course, have absolutely nil evidentiary value. The South Carolina Court of Appeals remanded the case for a full evidentiary hearing on the application of the Castle Doctrine. Here, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals.
In State v. Duncan, 392 S.C. 404, 410, 709 S.E. 2d 662, 665 (2011), the South Carolina Supreme Court interpreted the language of the statute to require that “the immunity determination” be made pre-trial:
[By] using the words “immune from criminal prosecution,” the legislature intended to create a true immunity, and not simply an affirmative defense. We also look to the language of the statute that provides, “the General Assembly finds that it is proper for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves, their families, and others from intruders and attackers without fear of prosecution or civil action for acting in defense of themselves or others.” We agree with the circuit court that the legislature intended defendants be shielded from trial if they use deadly force as outlined under the Act. Immunity under the Act is therefore a bar to prosecution and, upon motion of either party, must be decided prior to trial. Accordingly, we find the trial court properly made a pre-trial determination of respondent’s immunity.
The Court here declares that neither the Act nor Duncan sets forth a specific type of hearing or procedure to be followed. “All that is required under the Act and Duncan is that the court makes the immunity determination prior to trial.” Then the Court looks to the Sexually Violent Predator Act as guidance and decides that here, just like there, the evidentiary hearing is to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Doing so, the Court states, “serves to save precious judicial resources in cases like this one where an extensive hearing is simply unnecessary.”
The Court further held that under the facts of Manning’s case, the victim was an invited guest, so he was not entitled to the presumption of immunity. Also, and interestingly, in my opinion, the Court found that since she was unarmed at the time of the shooting, “we cannot say that the trial judge abused his discretion in denying Respondent’s immunity under subsection (C) [But if Manning could avail himself of the Doctrine if he “reasonably believes” it necessary to protect himself, isn’t that what the hearing was to determine?!?]
Justice Pleicones offered a thoughtful dissent. Regarding the majority’s analogy to the SVP program, Justice Pleicones notes that in those cases, and by design, the trial/ plea judge has complete discretion to decide whether a crime is sexually violent, and without the need to meet a particular burden of proof (versus the Castle Doctrine where the burden is proof by preponderance of the evidence). But additionally, the Castle Doctrine requires a motion by a party and places the burden on the defendant to show his entitlement to immunity. “In my opinion, the majority errs in relying on the SVP procedure to decide the process due a defendant under the Act.”
I think this raises some very interesting issues. Since the Act is designed to afford a presumptively innocent person from being exposed to trial, isn’t that different, from a due process standpoint, from a sexually violent predator who has already been determined to be guilty of a crime? In other areas of our jurisprudence (off the top of my head, 4th, 5th, and 6th amendment protections) pre-trial folk have more rights than convicted felons. Why then is the South Carolina Supreme Court placing them on the same footing when it comes to claiming an immunity from prosecution?
This is going to invite much future litigation as defendants insist on more expansive hearings, and the State will argue that “Manning means, Judge, only that you need to make a finding pre-trial. You don’t even need to hear from any witnesses!” Every appeal will raise abuse of discretion and due process claims . . . ad infinitum.