If you or someone you love is facing serious state court criminal charges in SC, you may have heard of the two strike/three strike law.
The reason that SC has this law in Circuit Court (General Sessions Court) is to dramatically increase the punishment for people previously convicted of certain crimes. The “certain crimes” are listed in the SC Code of Laws. If a person has one strike that qualifies as a “serious” conviction and that same person is convicted of a subsequent “most serious” conviction, they could be facing life without the possibility of ever getting out of prison.
In this article you will learn:
- When only one prior conviction plus a new charge can get you a life sentence
- When two prior convictions plus a new charge can get you a life sentence
- If life sentences really mean for life in prison without parole
- What “serious” and “most serious” crimes are in South Carolina
South Carolina’s Statute on Life Sentences
“LWOP” is an abbreviation commonly used in South Carolina that stands for “life without parole.” If the prosecutor serves someone with LWOP notice, and that person is convicted of a serious and/or most serious offense, that person can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
In other words, the person can never be released from prison. That person will never even be eligible for parole. In trying to figure out what a “strike” is, consider it a conviction. There are two main parts of the Strikes Law in SC.
Here is how someone can be eligible for LWOP (and that person has been served with proper LWOP notice by the prosecutor):
- 2 strikes (convictions) of crimes classified as “most serious”; or
- 3 strikes (convictions) of crimes classified as “serious”; or
The 2 Strike/3 Strike Laws in SC
Determining which Strike Law may apply to you depends on numerous details, including if you have any prior convictions, what those prior convictions are, and your current charge.
But first, how do you determine prior convictions?
Prior or previous conviction means the accused was convicted of a most serious or serious offense before the current offense. This doesn’t mean that the person has to have already finished serving the sentence imposed from that past conviction. The person can still be serving a sentence for a past conviction.
The 2 Strike Law in SC:
Under the 2 strike law in SC, assuming the prosecutor serves the person with proper notice, a defendant must be sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole when convicted of a “most serious” offense if that person has 1 or more prior convictions for:
- A most serious offense (as classified in the SC Code) OR
- A federal or out-of-state conviction for an offense that would be considered a most serious offense or a serious offense in SC.
Most Serious Offenses
The legal term for “most serious offense” is much different than the regular, everyday language of what you may be thinking means most serious offense. In fact, SC Code Section 17-24-45(C)(1) lists the offenses that are classified as “most serious.”
The list of most serious offenses as defined in the SC Code includes but is not limited to:
- Attempted murder
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Homicide by child abuse
- Certain degrees of Criminal Sexual Conduct charges
- Certain kidnapping charges
- Armed robbery
- Certain accessory charges
- Certain attempt charges
The 3 Strike Law in SC:
Under the 3 strike law in SC, someone must be sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole when convicted of a “serious” offense if a person has 2 or more prior convictions for:
- A serious offense; OR
- A federal or out-of-state conviction for an offense that would be considered a most serious offense in SC.
Another scenario where the 3 strike law would apply is that a person must be sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole when convicted of a “most serious” offense if a person has 2 or more prior convictions for:
- A serious offense;
- A most serious offense;
- A federal or out-of-state offense that would be considered a serious OR a most serious offense in SC; OR
- Any combination of the offenses above.
SC Code Section 17-25-45(C)(2) defines a “serious” offense as any offense punishable by a maximum jail term of 30 years or more not included in the most serious offenses list. The list of most serious offenses as defined in the SC Code includes but is not limited to:
- Burglary 2nd degree
- Arson 2nd degree
- Obtaining signature or property by false pretenses
- Domestic violence 1st degree
- Trafficking in crack cocaine
- PWID within proximity of a school
- Some lesser degrees of assault and sex crimes
- Some non-violent theft crimes
- Certain drug crimes
- Certain white collar crimes (such as embezzlement of public funds, insurance fraud and obtaining a signature by false pretenses).
Life Without the Possibility of Parole: What does it really mean?
Does life without the possibility of parole really mean no possibility of parole?
The general rule is there is no eligibility for early release or discharge in any form (parole, work release, etc.). However, there are exceptions to this general rule.
Work Release Exceptions
The following is a list of exceptions where a person may be eligible for work release even if they are convicted of:
- One of the following crimes:
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Burg 2nd
- Armed robbery
- Attempted armed robbery
- Crime didn’t involve any criminal sexual conduct or an additional violent crime; AND
- Person is within 3 years of release from jail.
There are even certain exceptions for parole eligibility. The following is a list of these exceptions:
- Department of Corrections requests the Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services (DPPP) to consider parole; AND
- DPPP determines that person is no longer a threat to society due to health or age; AND
- Person has served at least 30 years and is at least 65 years old; OR
- Person served at least 20 years and is at least 70 years old OR
- Person has terminal illness with expected lifetime of 1 year or less OR
- Person can produce evidence of extraordinary circumstances.
Is the “life without the possibility of parole” determination automatic?
No. The decision to serve someone with notice of LWOP is in the discretion of the prosecutor. In South Carolina, prosecutors are called Solicitors. If the Solicitor determines he/she wants the Defendant to serve LWOP, the Solicitor must inform the defendant.
This is typically done in a hearing in General Sessions. The Solicitor will call the case, the Defendant will stand before the Judge and the Solicitor will publish on the court’s record that he/she is serving the Defendant with LWOP. And then the Solicitor will hand the document to the Defendant with notice of LWOP. If the Solicitor wishes to proceed with the case as an LWOP, the Solicitor must serve the Defendant with notice of LWOP not less than 10 days before trial.
Need help with your criminal charge?
Some of the most serious types of crimes in SC are included in the strikes law. If you or someone you love is facing charges that involve the strike law, an attorney may be able to explain the complexity of this statute.
Because of the seriousness of these offenses, it is important that you understand your rights and how the system works. The strike law can literally determine how you spend the rest of your life.
A criminal defense lawyer may be able to explain your possible defenses to the crime(s) and your options.