South Carolina Supreme Court: State Cannot Appeal Guilty Plea
The Supreme Court of South Carolina dismissed the State’s appeal of a guilty plea and affirmed denial of motions to reconsider the sentence for recusal of the trial court.
The Court’s order came in an appeal the State brought in the prosecution of Rick Quinn, Jr. He is a former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, having served from 1989-2004 and 2010-2017 and as House Majority Leader from 1999-2004.
In 2014, a state grand jury was convened to investigate alleged public corruption by former and current members of the South Carolina General Assembly. As it related to Quinn, the investigation focused on his “practice of using his office as House Majority Leader and leader of the House Republican Caucus to direct mailing and political services to his family’s businesses, First Impressions, which did business as RQ&A.
The investigation resulted in Quinn being charged in May 2017 with statutory misconduct in office and common law misconduct in office. A charge of criminal conspiracy was lodged in October 2017. Charges of failing to register as a lobbyist was brought against RQ&A, Quinn’s father’s business, at that time.
At a plea hearing on December 13, 2017, Quinn entered a guilty plea under a plea agreement in which he would plead guilty to statutory misconduct in office while the other two indictments would be dismissed, and RQ&A would plead guilty and pay restitution of $3,000. The plea agreement provided for Quinn to make a “limited allocution” statement to support a factual basis, which was provided to the State prior to the hearing and the State would make a broader factual presentation.
After the presentations were made, Quinn entered his guilty plea to misconduct in office. Neither party objected, and the court deferred sentencing for two months after accepting the plea. In the interim, the State raised concerns in a motion to clarify. It was concerned that Quinn failed to satisfy statutory elements to support the conviction.
The court held a sentencing hearing on February 12, 2018. It conducted a second colloquy of Quinn to confirm he was guilty of misconduct in office, and it sentenced him to the maximum possible punishment of one year imprisonment suspended to two years’ probation, a $1,000 fine, and 500 hours of public service.
The State objected to the plea before and after the sentencing. It subsequently filed a motion for the trial court to reconsider the sentence or vacate the plea and for the court to recuse itself. After the court denied those motions, the State appealed.
The Supreme Court found “the State cannot appeal the guilty plea” under the facts of the case. It held the State “is not an ‘aggrieved party’ permitted to appeal under Rule 201(b), SCACR, because it successfully secured a guilty verdict against Respondent through plea agreement.” A guilty plea is tantamount to a guilty verdict, and thus it authorizes imposition of the punishment mandated by law. State v. Cantrell, 158 S.E.2d 189 (S.C. 1967).
The Court further found there was no abuse of discretion in sentencing Quinn. The State argued the trial court erred in “failing to consider its presentation of facts in sentencing Respondent and instead determining innocence” as to facts he did not admit.
The Court found Quinn was duly convicted of misconduct in office. Moreover, “a sentencing judge has great discretion in the kind of evidence she may use to assist her in determining punishment to be imposed.” Cantrell. Additionally, under S.C. Code Ann. § 24-21-410 (2007), the court has the “power to suspend Respondent’s sentence to two years’ probation.”
Finally, the Court found no evidence of judicial bias or prejudice on the part of the trial court.
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Related legal case
State v. Quinn
|Cite||2020 S.C. LEXIS 62 (2020)|
|Level||State Supreme Court|