Heard September 8, 2014.
Appeal From Richland County. James R. Barber, III, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2011-201106.
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Assistant Attorney General Megan E. Harrigan, all of Columbia, for Petitioner.
Appellate Defender Susan Barber Hackett, of Columbia, for Respondent.
SHORT, J. HUFF and KONDUROS, JJ., concur.
[410 S.C. 438] SHORT, J.:
In this post-conviction relief (PCR) action, we affirm the PCR court's order granting Chico Bell's application for relief.
Following a Richland County jury trial, Bell was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment. Bell filed a direct appeal, which this court affirmed. See State v. Bell, Op. No. 2009-UP-027 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Jan. 13, 2009). Bell subsequently filed an application for PCR, which the PCR court granted. This court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari on the issue of whether the PCR court erred in finding trial counsel was ineffective for failing to communicate a ten-year plea offer to Bell. We affirm.
At the PCR hearing, Bell testified he first learned of the State's plea offer " during the sentencing part of the process[,]" and the plea offer was " something about ten years." Bell stated no one with the public defender's office told him about the ten-year plea offer prior to the verdict. Bell testified he would have taken the plea offer if he had known about it. Additionally, Bell asserted if the State offered him the ten-year deal again, he would take it.
Also at the PCR hearing, Bell's trial counsel testified she was appointed to represent Bell after he filed a grievance against his prior counsel. Trial counsel stated Bell's case was transferred to her, and " it was handled in-house." She explained that while she worked for the public defender's office, the attorneys maintained their own files. When a file was [410 S.C. 439] transferred, the new attorney would receive the file and all of the previous attorney's notes. Trial counsel testified Bell's counsel included a note " from before [she] got the file," which was written by prior counsel. In describing the note, trial counsel explained,
It's very distinct. That [prior counsel] talked to the assistant solicitor, . . . and they had a discussion about a couple of things, and in one of them [the solicitor] made an offer of ten years. There's nothing in writing from [the solicitor]. There's no document. There's just a note in here that . . . he made an offer of ten years.
Trial counsel testified nothing in the file indicated the offer was extended to Bell. Trial counsel stated that when she first met with Bell, she did not have the file with her. Trial counsel explained that during her last meeting with Bell, they discussed the evidence, and her notes indicated Bell did not want to plead guilty. The State ...