South Carolina Court of Appeals Upholds the Stand Your Ground Ruling

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The S.C. Court of Appeals recently upheld a Richland County Circuit Court’s order granting immunity to a defendant charged in a woman’s murder. The woman was involved in a drive-by shooting that targeted the defendant’s home. After an earlier altercation at a nightclub with the defendant’s roommate, a vehicle chased the defendant’s roommate to his home where the defendant came under fire. The circuit court found that the defendant was acting lawfully when he returned fire towards the vehicle. The Court of Appeals confirmed Circuit Judge Maite Murphy’s decision that determined the defendant fired the fatal shot after “reasonably believing that he was being attacked with deadly force directed at his home”. The Solicitor’s Office opposed the motion for immunity based on the theory that the defendant was not being attacked prior to using deadly force.

The Court rejected this argument stating: “There is absolutely no requirement that the defendant wait to be attacked by those that instigated the deadly circumstances. The Legislature intended that the defendant should not have to wait to be fired upon.”

The applicable provision of the S.C.’s Stand Your Ground Law at issue in the case is found S.C. Code Ann. § 16-11-440 (C), which states:

“A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in another place where he has a right to be, including, but not limited to, his place of business, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or another person or to prevent the commission of a violent crime as defined in Section 16-1-60.”

The Court proved the Code Ann. § 16-11-440 (C) can be applied to this case in the following statement:

“The defendant is entitled to the grant of immunity under the Act because he and his family were clearly under attack and they had every reason to believe that the attack would have continued from the attacker (Kiwiana) and potentially the victim but for the actions of the defendant. The Legislature clearly did not intend for any father to stand idly by as his family lay on the kitchen floor in fear of being shot and killed.”

The circuit court’s order further stated that the Defendant was “entitled to statutory immunity under the ‘Stand Your Ground’ provision because he was reasonable to be in fear of the victim.”

The State disagreed with the circuit court, saying:

“They errored in finding Scott was entitled to immunity under section 16-11-440 (C) of the South Carolina Code because the statue required the defendant to be attacked prior to using deadly force and no evidence supports a finding Scott was attacked by the victim.”

The circuit court determined that someone in the SUV did not shoot first based on the majority of the evidence presented. Because of this, the events of that night are within the purview of subsection C as Scott’s decision was in response to an attack, not just the vehicles driving by the home. The State argued that the victim did not attack Scott and, therefore, his shooting the victim could not fall within the confines of subsection C. However, the circuit court found the Honda was directly in front of the house moving along the same path as the SUV. This evidence negated the State’s argument that the vehicles were so far apart that Scott’s fatal shot could have only been the result of an intentional act. The circuit court did not abuse its discretion in finding most of the evidence pointed to Scott being entitled to immunity pursuant to subsection C.

In conclusion, as the circuit court’s examination of Scott’s reasonable belief that he and his daughters were being attacked, deadly force was necessary to protect them. The court’s finding of immunity would support both the subsection C’s immunity grant and the circuit court’s analysis.

See the link below for the S.C. Court of Appeal’s Order:

https://www.sccourts.org/opinions/HTMLFiles/COA/5483.pdf

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