Tuesday, October 23, 2007

State may not appeal directed verdict in criminal case to correct error of law

In State v. Tillinghast, Tillinghast was charged with possession of alcohol by a minor in violation of S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-8920. A magistrate directed a verdict for Tillinghast on the ground § 20-7-8920 was unconstitutional as applied to him. The State appealed to the circuit court and argued that the magistrate erred by directing a verdict of not guilty. The circuit court found that it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal and subsequently found the magistrate had erred by ruling § 20-7-8920 was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court reversed on jurisdictional grounds.

According to the Court, no writ of error, appeal, or other proceeding lies on behalf of the state to review or to set aside a verdict or a judgment of acquittal in a criminal case, although there may have been error committed by the court. The cases refusing the State's right of appeal are premised upon the basic double jeopardy principle that a defendant in a criminal prosecution is in legal jeopardy when he has been placed on trial under a valid indictment and a competent jury has been sworn. Thus, the circuit court did not have jurisdiction.

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