South Carolina General Assembly
117th Session, 2007-2008

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S. 1293


General Bill
Sponsors: Senator Martin
Document Path: l:\s-res\lam\050midd.kmm.doc

Introduced in the Senate on April 15, 2008
Currently residing in the Senate Committee on Judiciary

Summary: Middle Court Processes Act


     Date      Body   Action Description with journal page number
   4/15/2008  Senate  Introduced and read first time SJ-4
   4/15/2008  Senate  Referred to Committee on Judiciary SJ-4
   4/21/2008  Senate  Referred to Subcommittee: Martin (ch), Ford, Ritchie, 
                        Knotts, Cleary

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(Text matches printed bills. Document has been reformatted to meet World Wide Web specifications.)



Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:

SECTION    1.    Title 14 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding:


Middle Courts

Section 14-29-10.    This act may be cited as the 'Middle Court Processes Act'.

Section 14-29-20.    The General Assembly recognizes that the drug court process existing in various counties has been successful in rehabilitating nonviolent drug and drug-related offenders who otherwise likely would have been sentenced to prison. The purpose of this chapter is to incorporate, build upon, and expand the successes and scope of the drug court concept by establishing a statewide middle court process that is not limited to drug offenses and shall promote the rehabilitation and re-entry of nonviolent offenders into society and reserve the State's prisons for those dangerous offenders and others for whom prison is the best alternative in the criminal justice system. The chapter intends to set standards and procedures to facilitate the creation and continuation of such programs across South Carolina, while leaving local jurisdictions the flexibility to tailor individual programs to local needs.

Section 14-29-30.    Each judicial circuit shall have a middle court process, subject to the availability of funds. A circuit solicitor who receives state funding for the implementation of a middle court program shall establish and administer at least one middle court program for his circuit within one hundred eighty days of the effective date of this act. A solicitor establishing a middle court program shall administer the program and ensure that all eligible people are permitted to apply for admission to the program.

Section 14-29-40.    (A)    The Supreme Court shall appoint middle court judges upon the recommendation of the circuit solicitor for that judicial circuit.

(B)    A middle court judge must:

(1)    be a member in good standing of the South Carolina Bar or a member, active or retired, of the Unified Judicial System;

(2)    serve at the pleasure of the Supreme Court for a term of two years and may be reappointed;

(3)    receive no salary for his service as a middle court judge and must serve as a middle court judge on a voluntary basis;

(4)    receive an allowance for mileage, subsistence, and per diem when engaged in the exercise of his duties as a middle court judge, to be paid from an approved account established for this purpose by his appointing authority;

(5)    be exempt during his term from Rule 608, South Carolina Appellate Court Rules, relating to the appointment of lawyers for indigents;

(6)    enjoy in a middle court proceeding or action the same privileges, immunities, and protections from civil liability as a circuit court judge;

(7)    receive training provided for this service; and

(8)    reside in the judicial circuit where he serves.

(C)    A middle court judge shall preside subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct and with the goal of instilling discipline in participants to a middle court proceeding, promoting the participant's rehabilitation, and encouraging the participant's successful completion of the middle court process. A middle court judge has the authority of a circuit court judge acting in probation matters, including, among other things, the authority to:

(1)    maintain order and decorum in all proceedings, including use of the contempt power;

(2)    issue an order of acceptance of a participant in the process and an order of dismissal from the process;

(3)    impose by written order a sanction dismissing a participant from the middle court process or incarcerating him for no more than seven days for failing to meet a condition, requirement, or goal ordered by the middle court;

(4)    issue to a participant a certificate indicating his successful completion of the middle court process;

(5)    order conditions or requirements of a rehabilitation plan for a participant, developed after consultation with the circuit solicitor, a drug counselor, and other professionals and people the middle court judge considers beneficial, with the conditions and requirements to include school, education, vocational training, work, drug testing, counseling, reporting, treatment, curfew, monitoring, restitution, community service, batterer's treatment, anger management, personal hygiene, meetings, and other measures the judge considers appropriate and orders; and

(6)    take action he considers necessary to carry out the middle court's functions provided in this chapter.

Section 14-29-50.    (A)    A person seeking admission to the middle court process:

(1)    must execute a middle court agreement specified in this chapter;

(2)    must receive a written recommendation from a circuit solicitor of competent jurisdiction and approval of a middle court judge of competent jurisdiction;

(3)    previously may not have been admitted to a middle court procedure;

(4)    may have no prior conviction for a violent crime as defined in Section 16-1-60;

(5)    must have an active sentence exceeding ninety days in general sessions court for a nonviolent crime, except a circuit solicitor may allow a person convicted of burglary in the second degree, attempted burglary in the second degree, or accessory before the fact of burglary in the second degree to enter the process if the circumstances of the offense did not involve an act of actual violence to another person.

(B)    A middle court agreement required in subsection (A) of this section may serve as the offender's application for admission to a middle court process and jurisdiction, and shall include:

(1)    an acknowledgement by the offender that his application is voluntary and freely entered into;

(2)    an agreement that, if accepted, he will comply with all conditions, rules and requirements that are to be imposed upon him in the middle court process, including a rehabilitation plan;

(3)    an acknowledgement that if accepted, he may be dismissed from the process at the discretion of the middle court judge and consequently transferred to the circuit court for commencement of his entire original sentence, without reduction;

(4)    an acknowledgement and agreement that he has no right to appeal or enjoin a decision of the middle court judge;

(5)    an acknowledgement and agreement that the post-conviction relief procedures do not apply to the middle court process, and a relinquishment of any rights to post-conviction relief;

(6)    an agreement to cooperate fully with a person involved in his rehabilitation plan and to comply with the requirements and conditions of the plan, including the submission to analysis, testing, treatment, counseling, evaluation, and providing of complete personal, health, and family information, and executing releases to accomplish the provision of this information;

(7)    an acknowledgement and agreement that information and test results produced by the middle court process shall become and remain the property of law enforcement and may be used against him; however, the information and test results may not be used as the sole or independent basis of a criminal prosecution of the offender for actions preceding his acceptance into the middle court process;

(8)    an agreement to bear, subject to his ability to pay, the costs of analysis, testing, treatment, counseling, or evaluation in a rehabilitation plan prescribed in the process, and an agreement that funds paid by the participant or on his behalf during the course of the middle court process may not be refundable in any event, including his dismissal from the process;

(9)    a general explanation of the purpose and concept of the middle court process;

(10)    a statement of the offender's knowing, willing, and full consent and submission to the authority of the middle court and its process;

(11)    the signature of the offender and, if any, his counsel; and

(12)    other statements, acknowledgements, or agreements the circuit solicitor may consider appropriate.

(C)    In determining whether to recommend an offender for admission to the middle court process, the solicitor shall consider, among other things:

(1)    the middle court agreement presented by the offender;

(2)    the nature of the offense for which the offender was convicted in circuit court;

(3)    the offender's prior criminal history;

(4)    the offender's prior substance abuse history;

(5)    the likelihood that the offender successfully will complete the process;

(6)    the risk and danger posed to the community by the offender's remaining at-large;

(7)    the benefits likely resulting to the community and this State from the offender's acceptance into the process, including cost savings, public service or private employment, enhancement of the offender's ability to pay restitution, support or comfort of his family, and the decreased likelihood of future criminal activity;

(8)    the benefits likely resulting to the offender upon his being accepted into the process, including drug rehabilitation, education, training, family support, discipline, employment, physical and mental health, and the opportunity for a productive life;

(9)    a positive recommendation or statement from the victim, the victim's family, law enforcement, or the community, the recommendation after screening by a qualified person selected by the solicitor or provided by a state, county, or municipal agency to determine the mental health or drug dependence of the applicant and his likelihood of successful completion of a rehabilitation plan prescribed in this process; and

(10)    other circumstances or matters the solicitor may consider appropriate.

(D)    The solicitor's recommendation to the middle court and the court's acceptance of the offender as a participant must be presented to the circuit court. The circuit court, in its discretion, may order the transfer of the offender to the custody and jurisdiction of the middle court for commencement of the middle court process. The circuit court shall provide in its order that the participant must be returned to the circuit court for final disposition, as provided in this chapter, upon his successful completion of the process or his dismissal from the process.

Section 14-29-60.    (A)    When establishing a middle court process, a circuit solicitor:

(1)    may address the particular requirements and circumstances of his circuit, provided the Supreme Court approves the procedure and the procedure is subject to and consistent with the uniform procedures provided in this chapter, including:

(a)    a middle court process must be at least twelve months in duration but no more than eighteen months in duration for a participant, although the process may be extended for a maximum of six additional months by the middle court;

(b)    a middle court session must be held in a courtroom or other place the middle court judge considers appropriate and where proper decorum, safety, and efficiency must be maintained;

(c)    a middle court session must be held at a time and place that will promote the maximum convenience and attendance of associated parties, especially a participating offender and his family, and absent a compelling reason should be held on a weekday and commencing no earlier than 5:30 p.m.;

(d)    a middle court session for an individual participant must be held no less than every fourteen days until the participant has successfully completed twelve months of the process, at which time the court may allow the participant to attend a session no less than once every thirty days; and

(e)    a middle court process may require the presence of a person necessary for the efficient operation of a middle court session;

(2)    shall designate in his office a person to serve as his administrator of the process in his circuit, and this designee's duties shall include the scheduling of the hearings, notification of the persons involved, maintenance and safeguarding of all records and orders associated with the process, filing of all orders and other appropriate documents with the appropriate clerk of court, and the production of a report required by this chapter; and

(3)    through his designated administrator, shall select a counselor or other professional to analyze, test, treat, and evaluate an applicant or participant contemplated in this chapter, and at least annually shall report to the Attorney General information regarding funds the solicitor expended for these purposes.

(B)    The Attorney General shall designate in his office a person to serve as his coordinator of the process in the circuits and counties, and this designee's duties must include assisting the Supreme Court, circuit solicitors, and middle court in establishing a uniform system of procedures, statistics, and processes as set forth in this chapter; collecting reports he prescribes from the circuit administrator in order to measure the progress and operations of the middle courts; and annually issuing a comprehensive report of his findings and recommendations no later than July thirtieth.

(C)    The Supreme Court may propose and promulgate rules for the middle court process in the same manner as it proposes and promulgates rules for other courts in the Unified Judicial System.

Section 14-29-70.    (A)    The transfer of an offender from the custody and jurisdiction of the circuit court to the custody and jurisdiction of the middle court must be made by the issuance of a written order from the circuit court in response to a petition by the circuit solicitor. This order must provide for the suspension of the offender's sentence pending the conclusion of the middle court process. The middle court then shall control and be responsible for the custody of the offender upon entry of the circuit court's order.

(B)    A middle court judge must transfer to the circuit court custody of a person who successfully completes the middle court process and the circuit court must immediately release the successful participant from his sentence. Where a person fails to successfully complete a middle court process and is consequently dismissed from the process, the middle court must transfer custody of the person to the circuit court for commencement of the sentence suspended by the middle court process. A court may not reduce a sentence for time spent participating in a middle court process.

(C)    The constitutional notice requirements of the Victims' Bill of Rights apply to a transfer authorized under this section.

Section 14-29-80.    (A)    Subject to available funding, a sentencing study committee is created to review, for a period not more two years from the effective date of this section, criminal sentences provided by the law of this State. Upon conclusion of this review, the committee shall report to the appointing authorities its findings and recommendations for improving the criminal sentences in this State.

(B)    The committee shall consist of ten members comprised of two appointees each by the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the solicitors, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. An appointee serves without compensation and at the pleasure of his appointing authority. However, private funds may be used for a purpose other than compensation, and an appointee may receive mileage, subsistence, and per diem as provided by law, provided the sources and funds and expenditures shall be accounted for and reported to the appointing authorities.

Section 14-29-90.    Nothing contained in this chapter may effect the operation or establishment of juvenile drug courts in South Carolina.

Section 14-29-100.    The General Assembly shall appropriate funds annually to an account to be maintained by the Supreme Court for the payment of mileage, subsistence and per diem for middle court judges as provided by this chapter.

Section 14-29-110.    The General Assembly annually shall appropriate funds to the solicitor of each judicial circuit for the employment and support of a middle court administrator for each circuit and other costs associated with the process as provided by this chapter."

SECTION    2.    The repeal or amendment by this act of any law, whether temporary or permanent or civil or criminal, does not affect pending actions, rights, duties, or liabilities founded thereon, or alter, discharge, release or extinguish any penalty, forfeiture, or liability incurred under the repealed or amended law, unless the repealed or amended provision shall so expressly provide. After the effective date of this act, all laws repealed or amended by this act must be taken and treated as remaining in full force and effect for the purpose of sustaining any pending or vested right, civil action, special proceeding, criminal prosecution, or appeal existing as of the effective date of this act, and for the enforcement of rights, duties, penalties, forfeitures, and liabilities as they stood under the repealed or amended laws.

SECTION    3.    If any section, subsection, paragraph, subparagraph, sentence, clause, phrase, or word of this act is for any reason held to be unconstitutional or invalid, such holding shall not affect the constitutionality or validity of the remaining portions of this act, the General Assembly hereby declaring that it would have passed this act, and each and every section, subsection, paragraph, subparagraph, sentence, clause, phrase, and word thereof, irrespective of the fact that any one or more other sections, subsections, paragraphs, subparagraphs, sentences, clauses, phrases, or words hereof may be declared to be unconstitutional, invalid, or otherwise ineffective.

SECTION    4.    This act takes effect upon approval by the Governor.


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