COLUMBIA - An S.C. Senate panel moved along a proposed bill Tuesday that would give prosecutors and judges the ability to push for increased sentences for people who commit crimes while out on bond.
While the measure, S. 857, was cleared for further debate by the Senate Judiciary Committee, one senator placed a procedural hurdle on it that could doom it for the year.
State Sen. J. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, pushed for a bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee that would allow judges and prosecutors the ability to impose sentences up to 40 percent stiffer than state maximums for repeat offenders. The bill would target those who are convicted of an initial crime who then are charged with a subsequent crime while out on bond.
The Legislature has heard testimony on several fronts this year about repeat offenders who are arrested, get out of jail on bond, and then commit other crimes while they await trial. Senators brought up the death of Kelly Hunnewell, a Columbia baker who was gunned down in July. Two suspects in the case were out on bond on other serious crimes, The State newspaper reported.
"It gives solicitors leeway to go after the most violent and problematic criminals," McElveen said of the bill.
Some on the Judiciary Committee questioned how the bill would work in practice. Because a defendant must be convicted of an initial crime to receive a stiffer penalty, a good defense attorney could work out a plea deal to ensure that their client only faced one conviction. In those cases, judges couldn't impose sentences stiffer than the state maximum.
That rankled Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg. Those who could afford better defense attorneys to work out a deal versus those appointed by the court could likely avoid stiffer penalties, he said. "Poor people are going to suffer," Hutto said.
Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, headed up the Senate's work on sentencing reform, which tried to ensure that only the most violent criminals would receive long prison sentences. Because South Carolina considers some non-violent crimes to be "serious," those convicted of crimes such as embezzlement could needlessly face long prison sentences under the proposed bill, Malloy said.
He placed a "minority report" on the bill, which puts procedural hurdles on the bill so that it's unlikely to come up for debate on the Senate floor.
McElveen, an attorney who has worked as a prosecutor, said he believed the threat of a stiffer sentence could deter those out on bond from committing further crimes.
The committee also passed a measure, S. 864, that would coordinate the state's response to child abuse and neglect.
A third measure also passed the committee Tuesday, S. 841. The bill would criminalize giving medication to children at child care facilities without parental permission. The measure is in response to cases around the state where caregivers gave children Benadryl to make them sleep because they didn't want to care for them, senators said.
However, some senators were concerned that the measure would criminalize cases where adults were just trying to help.
"If it's something like a cough drop, they shouldn't go to jail for a year," Sen. Hutto said. Senators promised to work on the bill's language before it receives further debate.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.