Sunday, July 15, 2007
Changes may create more prosecutorial fairness
JULY 15, 2007 - - In a state criminal justice system clogged
by tens of thousands of warrants that eventually are dismissed
or plea-bargained, there's got to be a better way of dispensing
justice that is fairer, more equitable and more efficient.
Seventh Circuit Solicitor Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg is making
the rounds with facts, figures, charts and numbers to support
his case that South Carolina's prosecution system needs serious
"Let's come up with a system that inspires more confidence
in the citizenry on both sides of the political equation and
socioeconomic equation," said Gowdy, who chairs the S.C.
Prosecution Commission, a state-backed criminal justice advisory
group. "It might sound hokey, but I've said it before:
The lady holding the scales is not blind. She is blindfolded.
She can see but she chooses to be economically-blind, color-blind
and political persuasion-blind."
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What's got in Gowdy's craw is the fact that thousands of
warrants are issued every year in South Carolina
thousands are dismissed for reasons like insufficient evidence,
pleading guilty to other charges, witness cooperation or because
judges threw out cases.
"The majority of cases dismissed in South Carolina are
dismissed because of insufficient evidence or the prosecutor's
perception of insufficient evidence," he said.
That causes everyday people to be a little suspect about
the criminal justice system, he said.
In South Carolina, there have been more than 100,000 criminal
cases filed in the state every year for the last 10 years
- excluding cases of drunken driving and domestic violence,
both of which add even more to the caseload. Some 54 percent
of cases disposed of in the state last year were non-convictions
- either dismissals or not-guilty verdicts, Gowdy said. Another
38 percent were convictions.
Drilling down into the numbers highlights how the system
Gowdy said law enforcement officials in his Spartanburg-Cherokee
County district issued about 9,000 warrants last year. About
46 percent were dismissed. Of the ones remaining, about 95
percent were guilty pleas. About 100 cases go to jury trial
"In a perfect week, we can take five to seven cases
to trial, leaving 145 for another week or another type of
resolution," he said.
Gowdy's analogy is a garden hose in which that the front
end is flooded "wide smack open" with cases, while
the back end is "hopelessly deadlocked." He makes
a good case for several suggestions that state lawmakers would
have to consider to even the flow of cases:
- Prosecutorial review. Gowdy suggested if prosecutors
were to review law enforcement's warrants before they were
issued, problems with cases would be evident earlier in
the process. In turn, fewer warrants would be issued, which
should save time and money. This team process is how the
federal system works and it tends to be more efficient with
warrants than the state's system.
- Magistrate training. In South Carolina, magistrates,
who issue most warrants, are appointed in a political process.
They're also not required to be lawyers. If they had more
training - specifically on probable cause and other complex
issues - there likely would be better-quality warrants in
the system. Gowdy said the state also should consider requiring
a new magistrate selection review process to improve the
quality of magistrates.
- Prosecutorial remand. Prosecutors would tend to
have fewer dismissals if they were able to remand bad cases
back to law enforcement agencies, as in the federal system,
- Dockets. He said he believed judges, not prosecutors,
should run dockets, which might create more efficiencies.
(He added his fellow solicitors likely would be opposed
to this suggestion.)
- Resources. He also said judges, prosecutors and
public defenders could use more resources to manage their
South Carolina's judicial system does need to be fair. For
citizens to have more confidence in it, state lawmakers ought
to look at Gowdy's ideas - particularly those on more magistrate
training and prosecutorial review - with fresh eyes.
You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of
SC Statehouse Report, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
226 years ago:
Battle of Parker's Ferry stopped Tories
the summer of 1781, Tories roved the countryside surrounding
Charleston. Patriot colonel William Harden commanded a dwindling
militia force south of the Edisto River and requested assistance
from Brigadier General Francis Marion to counter this threat.
Arriving at the village of Round O on Aug. 22, 1781, Marion
set out to gather intelligence. He learned that a force of
100 Tories under Colonel William "Bloody Bill" Cunningham
was assembling on the banks of the Pon Pon River (present-day
Edisto River) to join a larger body of British and Hessian
regulars and Loyalist militiamen. Marion quickly prepared
an ambush to prevent the juncture.
Statehouse Report has partnered with USC
Press to provide readers with a weekly historical
excerpt about the state. Each excerpt, which is used
with permission and not for republication, is taken
South Carolina Encyclopedia, a 1,077-page book
published in 2006 with entries by almost 600 contributors
and edited by noted historian Walter Edgar. We hope
you enjoy this new feature.
On August 30, the patriot force took position in the thick
woods of a swamp about 40 yards from the road and within a
mile of Parker's Ferry. ... [Major Thomas] Fraser's men galloped
blindly into the trap. As the British cavalrymen came abreast
of the American position, they received several volleys of
fire. British losses were estimated at about 25 killed and
80 wounded, with minimal harm to Marion's force. This small
but effective engagement checked the British cavalry and put
a stop to the marauding of the Tories so that they never posed
a threat in the region again.
-- Entry by Samuel K. Fore, The
South Carolina Encyclopedia
Another great cartoon by Bill McLemore:
Domestic violence laws may be used wrongly
To Statehouse Report:
I happened upon your
article on criminal domestic violence published in September
of 2005. South Carolina is diligent in efforts to add expert
solicitors to prosecute criminal domestic violence while the
state is clearly lacking in public defenders with the same
expertise. Family Court cases in South Carolina constitute
approximately 75 percent of all cases and 80 percent of those
cases involve criminal domestic violence in some form.
Rarely publicized, criminal domestic violence is the number
one weapon that women use to gain child custody advantages.
When judges set bond restrictions, they generally eliminate
any contact with the "victim" and any children,
with or without any third party evidence. A defendant is thus
presumed guilty and punished until trial. That period of time
could be (and is) the entire infancy of a child.
Current South Carolina laws are not constitutional as expressly
covered in the Bill of Rights. The foundation of "FREEDOM"
should never be discounted. Drop the word Domestic out of
"criminal domestic violence." You need evidence
of at least "criminal violence" for an arrest.
Recommendation for SC: Unless there is clearly evidence of
"criminal violence," there should be no arrest.
If the officer remains concerned for the well-being of the
"victim," empower the officer to issue a one- or
two-day restraining order on the spot.
Spouse beaters deserve what they get when the evidence supports
but recognize that this law is used many times for a very
different reason: CUSTODY.
-- Marty Hicks, Mount Pleasant, SC
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