Submitted May 1, 2015
Appeal from Dorchester County. DeAndrea G. Benjamin, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2012-213162.
Appellate Defender Susan B. Hackett, of Columbia, for Petitioner.
Attorney General Alan M. Wilson and Assistant Deputy Attorney General David A. Spencer, of Columbia, for Respondent.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI
In exchange for the State's promise not to seek the death penalty on three charges of murder, Anthony Sanders consented to a bench trial and waived his right to any appellate, post-conviction, or habeas corpus review. He was convicted of three counts of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. His subsequent application for post-conviction relief (PCR) was dismissed based on the agreement. He now argues the PCR court erred in dismissing his petition without an evidentiary hearing. We reverse and remand.
Sanders was charged with three counts of murder. During a pre-trial status conference, the parties presented a negotiated " Contractual Consent Order to Waive Rights to a Jury Trial" (the Agreement) to the trial court. The terms of the Agreement provided that in exchange for the State not seeking the death penalty, Sanders would agree to a bench trial and would also waive any right to further judicial review, including direct appeal, PCR, or habeas corpus proceedings.
Prior to approving the Agreement, the trial court engaged in a lengthy colloquy with Sanders. Sanders said he had sufficient time to discuss the Agreement with his counsel and desired to freely enter into it. The court explained to Sanders he was giving up the right to have another court review its decision, and Sanders acknowledged he understood. The court discussed PCR and stated Sanders would be waiving the right to challenge his attorneys' actions afterward. Sanders said he had discussed the PCR statute with his lawyers and wanted to waive that right as well. Additionally, the court explained the process of a death penalty jury trial and explained Sanders was agreeing to waive his rights to a jury trial in exchange for the removal of the death penalty. Ultimately, the trial court accepted the Agreement, finding Sanders had freely and voluntarily entered into it.
The case proceeded to a bench trial. The court again questioned Sanders about the Agreement before the trial began, and Sanders confirmed he still wished to waive his rights in exchange for eliminating the death penalty. The court ultimately convicted Sanders of all three murders and sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on each count.
Sanders filed a pro se appeal to the court of appeals, which was dismissed for failure to serve and file a notice of appeal with proper proof of service. Sanders then filed the instant action for PCR alleging he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorneys " misadvised him with misleading statements" which rendered his signing of the Agreement involuntary. The State moved to dismiss pursuant to the terms of the Agreement.
A hearing was held before the PCR court. Sanders initially moved for a continuance based on his assertion that his attorneys failed to investigate potential witnesses, which the State opposed based on the Agreement. Sanders argued that his entering into the Agreement was not knowing and voluntary because his lawyers did not adequately apprise him of the rights he was waiving. He therefore requested an evidentiary hearing.
The State argued the PCR court need only review the colloquy between the trial court and Sanders to determine whether he had voluntarily waived his right to an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, and if the court so found, the Agreement should be enforced. After reviewing the ...