Remember Jeroid Price’s infamous sentence reduction?
He was released from prison after his murder sentence was reduced in a “secret” order issued after a “secret” meeting between retired circuit court judge Casey Manning, Solicitor Byron Gipson of the Fifth Judicial Circuit (Judge Manning’s former law clerk), and defense attorney and Minority Leader of the House of Representatives Todd Rutherford.
When the media learned of Price’s release and began reporting on it, the SC Attorney General moved to unseal the record, the SC Supreme Court declared that the order releasing Price was void, and Price was rearrested and returned to prison.
Last week, the SC Supreme Court issued an opinion explaining their decision to vacate the sentence reduction order – three justices agree that the order releasing Price was void due to the circuit court’s failure to comply with 1) the requirements of the sentence reduction statute and 2) the SC Constitution’s requirement that court proceedings be open to the public.
Two dissenting justices then explain how the majority is simply covering for the state – in their opinion, there are no legal grounds to vacate the sentence reduction order, and the “Court should not relieve the State from an order the State procured.”
Why Did the SC Supreme Court Take Away Jeroid Price’s Sentence Reduction?
Jeroid Price’s sentence was reduced under SC Code § 17-25-65, which provides that a solicitor can move for a sentence reduction after conviction if the defendant provides substantial assistance investigating or prosecuting someone or provides aid to an SCDC employee who is in danger of being seriously injured or killed.
Along with the order reducing Price’s sentence, a sealed envelope sent to the clerk’s office contained affidavits that showed Price 1) notified authorities that another inmate had escaped and 2) defended a correctional officer who had been attacked. So, what was the problem?
The SC Supreme Court found that the sentence reduction order should be vacated because 1) the court did not follow the procedure outlined in 17-25-65 and 2) the proceedings were not open to the public.
The Court also found that the proceedings violated the Victim’s Bill of Rights because the victim’s family was not notified of the proceedings or given an opportunity to be present, but this is not grounds to reverse the sentence reduction.
The Court also addressed the question of whether a murder sentence, including the mandatory minimum 30-year sentence, can be reduced using 17-25-65, but did not decide this issue (the dissent found that a mandatory minimum sentence can be reduced, however).
What is the Procedure for a Sentence Reduction Under 17-25-65?
To seek a sentence reduction after conviction, 17-25-65 requires 1) the solicitor to file a written motion with the clerk’s office, 2) the solicitor to send a copy of the written motion to the chief administrative judge of the circuit within five days, and 3) the chief judge or a circuit court judge assigned to the county to hold a hearing.
None of that happened in Price’s case – no motion was filed and there was no hearing held. Does that invalidate the court’s order reducing Price’s sentence, though?
It does, only because the majority on the SC Supreme Court says it does.
Don’t expect this to be a precedent, however – the Court does not ordinarily invalidate court orders based on “technicalities,” and, if this were an appeal by a defendant, the Court would almost certainly decline to reverse the order because the technical defects are “harmless error…”
Why Was the Sentence Reduction Order Vacated?
As an aside, we don’t know the full story of what happened here. Why did a circuit court judge agree to reduce a murder sentence by more than 15 years in a secret proceeding based on affidavits that the SC Supreme Court describes as having “suspect veracity” because one is unsigned, one is an affidavit from an inmate, and another is “rank hearsay?”
The order was vacated because the majority of the SC Supreme Court didn’t think Price should be released and because they thought it was their responsibility to clean up the circuit court’s mess.
The state (the Fifth Circuit Solicitor) asked for a sentence reduction. The state (the circuit court) said okay and reduced Price’s sentence. The state (the Attorney General, after the media discovered that Price had been released) then asked for the sentence reduction to be vacated. The state (the SC Supreme Court) said okay and ordered Price to be sent back to prison.
As the dissent says, “[t]his Court should not relieve the State from an order the State procured.”
There were two parties to the action. 1) the State of South Carolina and 2) Jeroid Price. Neither party appealed the result. More than 30 days later, the State, which had no legal ground to appeal or ask for the order to be vacated, asked the SC Supreme Court to vacate the order.
Will Solicitor Byron Gipson of the Fifth Judicial Circuit Ask for a Sentence Reduction Now?
If the Solicitor believed that Price should be given a sentence reduction under 17-25-65, what has changed now?
If this was a legitimate, above-board transaction, and the proceedings were kept “secret” solely to protect Price from retaliation in prison, then 1) Gipson believed Price deserved a sentence reduction and 2) Gipson should file the motion asking the court to reduce Price’s sentence now.
If he does not, what does that say about the secret proceedings that the SC Supreme Court overturned? What was the motivation for the now-overturned 17-25-65 order? Did the solicitor believe that Price deserved a sentence reduction?
Has anything changed since then other than the court overturned the order based on the irregularities?
If the motivation for the now-overturned 17-25-65 order was that Jeroid Price deserved a sentence reduction, doesn’t he still deserve a sentence reduction?
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.