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Thompson v. State

Supreme Court of South Carolina

March 2, 2016

Clifford Thompson, Petitioner,
v.
State of South Carolina, Respondent

         Heard October 21, 2015.

          Appeal From Berkeley County. R. Markley Dennis, Jr., Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2014-001984.

         Lindsey S. Vann, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

         Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, and Assistant Attorney General Marcie E. Greene, all of Columbia, for Respondent.

         ACTING JUSTICE TOAL. BEATTY, KITTREDGE, and HEARN, JJ., concur. PLEICONES, C.J., concurring in result only.

          OPINION

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

         TOAL, ACTING JUSTICE.

         Clifford Thompson appeals the court of appeals' decision in Thompson v. State, 409 S.C. 386, 762 S.E.2d 51 (Ct.App. 2014), affirming the circuit court's refusal to grant Thompson's request for declaratory judgments finding that: (1) his kidnapping offenses did not involve a sexual element; and (2) Thompson would not need to register as a sex offender upon his release from prison in 2020. We reverse in part, and affirm in part.

         Facts/Procedural Background

         From 1998 to 2000, an armed perpetrator committed six robberies of hotels in Lexington, Richland, Berkeley, and Charleston counties. During each of these robberies, the perpetrator entered the hotel, held the clerk at gunpoint, restrained the clerk with either duct tape or rope, and stole money out of the hotel safe and till. After an investigation, the police arrested Thompson for these robberies, and a grand jury indicted Thompson on multiple counts of armed robbery and kidnapping.[1]

         In 2001, Thompson pled guilty to six counts of armed robbery and four counts of kidnapping. At the time of the plea, the circuit court failed to make a finding that the four kidnapping offenses were not sexual in nature. See S.C. Code Ann. § 23-3-430(C)(15) (2007 & Supp. 2014) (stating that anyone convicted of kidnapping is considered a sex offender " except when the court makes a finding on the record that the offense did not include a criminal sexual offense or an attempted criminal sexual offense" ).

         In 2009, after discovering that the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) classified him as a sex offender due to his kidnapping convictions, Thompson filed a petition for a declaratory judgment, requesting the court find that the kidnapping offenses were not sexual in nature, and did not require him to register as a sex offender pursuant to section 23-3-430(C)(15). The State moved the court to dismiss Thompson's action under Rules 12(b)(1) and (6), SCRCP, arguing that Thompson's petition was not yet ripe because sex offender registration requirements are determined solely by the law in effect at the time of an inmate's release from prison, and Thompson would not be released until 2020.

         The circuit court granted the State's motion, finding that the action was not ripe. The court further found that Thompson was required to pursue administrative review within the SCDC in order to change his internal classification there. See Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000). The circuit court did not address Thompson's request that the court make a finding on the record that his kidnapping convictions were not sexual in nature.

         In a split decision, the court of appeals affirmed. Thompson, 409 S.C. 386, 762 S.E.2d 51. Chief Judge Few, writing for the majority, found that " the circuit court properly determined no justiciable controversy existed and dismissed the action because the question of whether Thompson should be required to register ...


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