Does SC have a three strikes law or a two strikes law?
I feel like I should insert a joke here: “three strikes and yer out!” Except it’s no laughing matter – in SC, our three strike or two strike laws result in life imprisonment without the possibility of parole…
Below, we will cover the basics of SC’s life without parole (LWOP), or three strikes law, including:
- When three strikes can result in life without parole,
- When two strikes can result in life without parole,
- Why parts of SC’s three strikes law are absurd, and
- The notice required if the State intends to seek a sentence of life without parole.
SC’s Two Strikes/ Three Strikes Law: Life without Parole (LWOP)
SC’s life without parole (LWOP) statute allows the State to seek a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in any case where the defendant has either two prior convictions for “serious” offenses (three strikes) or just one prior conviction for a “most serious” offense (two strikes).
SC Code § 17-25-45 lists the types of convictions that qualify as “serious” or “most serious,” which includes any federal or out-of-state convictions for comparable offenses.
SC’s Two Strikes Law
If you are currently charged with an offense that is classified as “most serious” and you have at least one prior conviction for an offense that is classified as “most serious,” the State can seek a sentence of life without parole if you are convicted of the current offense.
“Most serious” offenses include:
- Attempted murder,
- Voluntary manslaughter,
- Homicide by child abuse or aiding and abetting homicide by child abuse,
- Lynching first degree,
- Assault and battery by mob first degree,
- Criminal sexual conduct (CSC) first or second degree,
- CSC with a minor,
- Assault with intent to commit CSC first or second degree,
- Kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping,
- Human trafficking,
- Arson first degree,
- Burglary first degree,
- Armed robbery and attempted armed robbery,
- Use of an explosive incendiary device where death results,
- Taking of a hostage by an inmate,
- Gathering information for or giving certain information to an enemy during wartime,
- Abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult resulting in death,
- Removing or damaging airport equipment where death results,
- Interfering with traffic control devices when death results,
- Obstruction of a railroad where death results, and
- Accessory or attempt for any charges listed as a “most serious” offense.
All of these are, indeed, the most serious offenses under SC law, and many of them already carry a potential sentence of life in prison. What about SC’s three strikes law?
SC’s Three Strikes Law
If you are currently charged with an offense that is classified as “serious,” and you have two or more prior convictions for offenses that are classified as “serious,” the State can seek a sentence of life without parole if you are convicted of the current offense.
The offenses classified as “serious” include:
- Any offense that carries a potential sentence of 30 years or more and is not listed above as a “most serious” offense,
- Lynching second degree,
- Assault and battery by a mob second degree,
- Engaging a child for sexual performance,
- Accepting a bribe by an officer,
- Accepting a bribe for purposes of gaining public office,
- Arson second degree,
- Burglary second degree,
- Theft using an ATM,
- Embezzlement of public funds,
- Breach of trust with fraudulent intent,
- Obtaining signature or goods by false pretenses,
- Domestic violence first degree or domestic violence high and aggravated,
- Any drug trafficking offense,
- Insurance fraud,
- Distribution, sale, manufacture, or possession with intent to distribute drugs within proximity of a school,
- Felony DUI resulting in death,
- Abuse of a vulnerable adult resulting in great bodily injury, and
- Accessory before the fact or attempt to commit any of the above offenses.
Three 30-Day Misdemeanors = Life without Parole?
Most of the “serious” offenses seem “serious” enough, but…
Did they really put breach of trust and obtaining goods by false pretenses in the same category as felony DUI resulting in death and engaging a child for sexual performance?
Although SC hasn’t yet gotten the national media attention California has seen for their three strikes law (for example, this man received a life sentence for stealing a $2 pair of socks), our three strikes law has the same absurdity written into it.
Breach of trust and obtaining goods by false pretenses when the dollar value is less than $2000 are minor, 30-day offenses. They are magistrate court-level offenses comparable to shoplifting or petty larceny. They are not on a level with engaging a child for sexual performance, and they should never result in life imprisonment.
As SC’s LWOP statute is written, a person can be convicted twice for obtaining goods by false pretenses, even if the goods obtained were worth $1, and, if they are convicted a third time for obtaining goods by false pretenses, even if the goods obtained were worth $1, they can be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
If someone repeatedly steals from others, how much prison time does it take to teach them to stop stealing? Is it Justice to take away their life because they stole something no matter how small?
Notice of Intent to Seek Life Without Parole
Life without parole under SC’s three strikes or two strikes law is not automatic – SC Code § 17-25-45(H) is clear that the prosecutor must serve written notice on both 1) the defendant and 2) the defendant’s attorney no less than ten days before trial:
(H) Where the solicitor is required to seek or determines to seek sentencing of a defendant under this section, written notice must be given by the solicitor to the defendant and defendant’s counsel not less than ten days before trial.
When the prosecutor serves written notice of LWOP on the defendant’s attorney but not the defendant, it is not valid service of the notice under SC Code § 17-25-45, and, if it is discovered on the eve of trial, the solicitor must 1) request a continuance to comply with the statute or 2) go forward with their case but they cannot seek life without parole if the defendant is convicted.
If you have been charged with a crime in SC and you are exposed to a sentence of life without parole, get an experienced criminal defense attorney on your case immediately – call Axelrod & Associates now at 843-353-3449 or email us online to speak with a Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyer on the Axelrod team today.