South Carolina has a “three strikes law,” and we also have a “two strikes law,” both of which are also called SC’s “life without parole,” or LWOP laws.
Below, we will discuss SC’s LWOP law, including:
- The offenses that fall under SC’s three strikes law,
- The charges that come under SC’s two strikes law, and
- When two or more closely connected offenses are considered one offense for purposes of the LWOP statute.
SC’s Three Strikes Law – Two Strikes Law
South Carolina’s life without parole (LWOP) law is found in SC Code Section 17-25-45. Under this law, a person can be sentenced to life without parole – regardless of the statutory sentencing range for the offense – when they are convicted of a second “most serious” offense or a third “serious” offense.
Three Strikes Law
Under SC’s three strikes law, a person with two or more prior convictions for “serious” or “most serious” offenses can be sentenced to life without parole on their third conviction for a “serious” or “most serious” offense.
“Serious” offenses include any charge that has a maximum potential penalty of 30 years or more that is not included in the list of “most serious” offenses or any of the charges listed in Section 17-25-45 (C)(2):
- 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,
- Accessory before the fact or attempt to commit any of the above offenses, or
- Any federal or out-of-state offense that would be classified as a “serious” or “most serious” offense.
Two Strikes Law
Under SC’s two strikes law, a person with one or more prior convictions of a “most serious” offense can be sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) on their second conviction for a “most serious” offense.
Section 17-25-45 (C)(1) lists the “most serious” offenses, which 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 (with some exceptions),
- 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,
- Accessory or attempt for any charges listed as a “most serious” offense, or
- Any federal or out-of-state offense that would be classified as a “most serious” offense.
Closely Connected Offenses are Considered One Offense
Under SC Code § 17-25-50, offenses that “have been committed at times so closely connected in point of time that they may be considered as one offense” will only count as one offense, “notwithstanding under the law they constitute separate and distinct offenses:”
SECTION 17-25-50. Considering closely connected offenses as one offense.
In determining the number of offenses for the purpose of imposition of sentence, the court shall treat as one offense any number of offenses which have been committed at times so closely connected in point of time that they may be considered as one offense, notwithstanding under the law they constitute separate and distinct offenses.
This was intended to prevent over-zealous, trigger-happy prosecutors from seeking sentences of life without parole based on multiple offenses that occurred close in time to one another, even if they are to be considered separate and distinct offenses for other purposes (like double jeopardy).
In State v. Benjamin, in January 2003, the SC Supreme Court inexplicably held that Section 17-25-50 did not apply to LWOP determinations under Section 17-25-45 and 17-25-50 effectively has no purpose, overruling all prior appellate opinions that held otherwise and affirming Benjamin’s LWOP sentence for two armed robberies that occurred within four hours of each other.
Then, a few months later, the same Supreme Court reversed itself again in State v. Gordon, reversing Benjamin and holding that Section 17-25-50 does apply to LWOP determinations under Section 17-25-45, reversing Gordon’s LWOP sentence for two trafficking convictions that were closely related in time, although they were based on different facts, different witnesses, and different charges, and the same charges were not barred by double jeopardy.
Gordon is the controlling precedent (for now), Section 17-25-50 is good law, and offenses that are closely connected in time are considered one offense for purposes of SC’s LWOP statute.
Criminal Defense Lawyers in Columbia, SC, and Myrtle Beach, SC
The criminal defense attorneys at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.
If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.