Thursday, June 15, 2006

S.C. Court of Appeals holds that constitutional concerns are not implicated when civil and criminal matters are pending at same time

In South Carolina Department of Social Services v. Walter, the Court of Appeals considered whether William Nelson's due process and equal protection rights were violated by the fact that the family court intervention action proceeded to trial while related criminal charges were also pending against him. Nelson was alleged to have sexually abused a 16 year old girl and allowed her to smoke marijuana. At the family court probable cause hearing, Nelson appeared with counsel and raised concerns that he might not be able to testify due to pending criminal charges. The family court denied the request to hold the family intervention action in abeyance pending resolution of the criminal charges. A trial was held, and the family court found that Nelson had sexually abused the girl. Nelson did not testify at the hearing.

The Court of Appeals found no constitutional violation. According to the Court, there is nothing inherently repugnant to due process in requiring a party to choose between giving testimony at a family court hearing and keeping silent, even though giving testimony at the hearing may damage his criminal case and keeping silent will most likely lead to an adverse ruling in the family court proceeding.

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