Advocates for crime victims will be watching a court hearing Thursday in Charleston, where Circuit Judge Thomas L. Hughston Jr. will be asked to re-examine his ruling that reduced the sentence of a Mount Pleasant man who killed a 72-year-old woman in a drunken driving wreck.
Hughston’s May decision to cut Samuel McCauley’s jail time by half, requiring the now 21-year-old to serve five years, has drawn criticism because the ruling was made without holding a hearing. The victims’ relatives learned of the decision two months later.
“The court’s approach to resentencing the defendant threatens the integrity of our criminal justice system,” 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said in a motion seeking to reopen the sentencing.
At issue is a perceived conflict between South Carolina’s Rules of Criminal Procedure, which allow courts to grant post-trial motions without a hearing, and the state’s Victims’ Bill of Rights, which includes language about victims having a right to be heard at proceedings involving sentencing.
McCauley’s lawyer, Capers Barr, said in a court filing that there’s no basis for reopening the issue of McCauley’s newest sentence. He said the Victims’ Bill of Rights was not violated, and it was up to Hughston to decide whether to hold a hearing before ruling on the sentence reconsideration.
“The Victims’ Bill of Rights requires only that a victim has the right to be present at criminal proceedings where the defendant has a right to be present,” Barr said in his motion.
Wilson said that if a victim’s right to attend a hearing can be circumvented by not holding a hearing, that would undermine the legislative intent of the Victims’ Bill of Rights.
Relatives of Eleanor Caperton, who was killed when McCauley sped the wrong way up an Interstate 26 ramp and struck her car head-on in July 2011, did not learn of McCauley’s sentence reduction until after the Solicitor’s Office became aware of it in July.
The South Carolina chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said the process of reducing McCauley’s sentence was “surreptitious,” and in a statement joined Wilson’s office in directly criticizing the judge.
“MADD SC extends their sympathy to the victim’s family and friends for this shocking and underhanded action on the part of Judge Hughston,” said the statement issued by MADD SC board member and victims’ advocate Laura Hudson. “Being re-victimized by the very system that is supposed to protect the rights of victims is appalling.”
Hughston has said he would not comment on the case as long as motions are pending.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.