Wednesday, November 29, 2006

S.C. Supreme Court reverses PCR judge's grant of a new trial

In Bennett v. State, the PCR court granted Bennett a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Bennettt had pled guilty to first degree burglary on advice of his appointed public defender, who he alleged was unprepared for trial. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Prior to pleading, the public defender informed him he could get life if he went to trial and informed Bennett that a deal with the solicitor's office would likely result in 15 years. After pleading guilty, Bennett did not file an appeal. The PCR court found: (1) respondent had not knowingly and intelligently waived his right to a direct appeal; and (2) counsel was ineffective.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Court held that both the plea transcript and respondent's testimony at the PCR hearing clearly indicated that counsel did consult with respondent and advised him that he should enter a guilty plea. Counsel advised respondent to plead guilty based, at least in part, on the likelihood of what counsel believed the sentence would be. Counsel's advice that respondent would have gotten a life sentence was not technically incorrect because life is the maximum sentence for first degree burglary.

The Court further found that because any trial would essentially be respondent's word against his ex-girl friend's, there could be no claim that counsel should have further investigated the case to discover other evidence or witnesses. Counsel testified that he was prepared for the trial.

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