January 13, 2016.
From Charleston County J. C. Nicholson, Jr., Circuit Court
Judge. Appellate Case No. 2014-002123.
General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General
John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General
Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Attorney General Alphonso Simon,
Jr., all of Columbia; Solicitor Scarlett Anne Wilson, of
Charleston, for Appellant.
Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, for
Jones was indicted for the murder of her boyfriend after she
fatally stabbed him at their shared residence. In a pretrial
motion, Jones asserted immunity from prosecution under the
" Protection of Persons and Property Act" (the
Act). Following a hearing, the circuit court
judge granted the motion, finding Jones established by a
preponderance of the evidence that she was entitled to
immunity under section 16-11-440(C) of the Act. In this
direct appeal, the State challenges the judge's
order on two assertions of error: (1) section 16-11-440(C) is
inapplicable because the stabbing occurred within Jones's
residence and not " another place where [s]he ha[d] the
right to be" as identified in subsection (C); and,
alternatively, (2) Jones failed to establish that she was
acting in self-defense when she stabbed her boyfriend. We
Factual / Procedural History
the early morning hours of November 2, 2012, Jones fatally
stabbed Eric Lee, her live-in boyfriend, one time in the
chest while in their shared residence. The events leading up
to the stabbing were established during the pretrial hearing.
written statement to police, Jones recounted that during the
evening of November 1, 2012, she and Lee were involved in a
physical altercation over a cell phone that Lee had purchased
and given to Jones. According to Jones, Lee began pushing her
and punching her as she began to leave their apartment. Jones
stated that, while she was outside the apartment, Lee pulled
her hair and attempted to force her back inside. During this
confrontation, some of Jones's hair weave was removed
from her head as Lee dragged her down the street. A neighbor,
who witnessed the commotion, called 911 for help at 11:28
p.m. Jones claimed that Lee continued to try and force her
back into the apartment. After she threw the phone on the
ground, Jones was able to flee the apartment when Lee went to
retrieve the phone. At some point during the confrontation,
Jones called her friend, Erica Grant, and left a voicemail
message urging Grant to pick her up from the apartment. The
message also recorded Jones repeatedly pleading for Lee to
" get off" of her.
stated that she returned to the apartment after she "
cooled down." When she opened the door, Jones observed
Lee throwing her things around. After Jones called her
cousin, Jasmine Taylor, to pick her up, she began collecting
her things as Lee yelled at her that " [it's]
over" and " rush[ed][her] to leave." When
Taylor and Grant arrived at the apartment, Jones began to
place her belongings in the car. According to Jones, Lee
followed her around the apartment making sure that she did
not take any of his possessions. Taylor, who assisted Jones
while Grant remained in the car, testified that Lee continued
to argue with Jones.
stated that when she went upstairs to retrieve her shoes, she
noticed a knife and " grabbed it for protection."
After the three went downstairs, Jones and Lee remained in
the living room while Taylor stood outside the living room.
Jones stated that Lee " started yelling and pushing me
again telling me to get out." Jones further claimed that
Lee then grabbed her, asked her if she was mad, and began
shaking her while telling her " It's over. It's
your fault." Because Jones believed that Lee was getting
ready to hit her again, she " grabbed the knife out of
[her] shirt and stabbed him" one time in the chest.
Jones then ran out of the apartment. Taylor did not witness
the stabbing, but stated that she heard an " uh"
before Jones ran out.
and Jones then got into Grant's car and drove away.
However, they only drove around the corner before Jones told
them to turn around and admitted that she had stabbed Lee.
They returned to the apartment where they found Lee on the
ground in the doorway. Taylor testified that Lee was still
conscious and was moaning. Jones and Taylor drove Lee to the
hospital where he later died. Grant remained at the apartment
to wait for police, who had been called by a neighbor at
12:12 a.m. on November 2, 2012 to report what had happened.
a Charleston County grand jury indicted Jones for murder.
Jones asserted immunity from prosecution under section
16-11-440(C) of the Act. Following a hearing, the circuit
court judge granted Jones's motion. Initially, the judge
noted that section 16-11-440(A) would not apply in
Jones's case because Lee was a lawful resident of the
place where the stabbing occurred. As a result, the judge
found Jones was " defaulted to Section (C)." The
Section (C) operates in a similar manner as section (A), but
does not allow for the presumption of reasonable fear.
Because [Lee] was a co-resident, subsection (A) is
inapplicable to [Jones] and she is therefore defaulted into
ruling, the judge rejected the State's argument that the
language in subsection (C), " in another place where he
has a right to be," would exclude Jones's dwelling,
residence or occupied vehicle, because those places are
expressly identified in subsection (A). The judge determined
" the 'another place' language is intended to
encompass dwellings, residences or occupied vehicles, along
with any other place where a person has a right to be and is
judge explained that " [o]ne seeking to utilize section
(C) against another co-resident simply loses the presumption
of reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily
injury" as provided in section (A). The judge recognized
that while section (C) applies to an incident that occurs in
a dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle, it removes the
presumption of reasonable fear. The judge reasoned that
" [t]o hold that a person cannot utilize Section
16-11-440(C) if the person were inside of their own home
would create a nonsensical result--that a person can defend
themselves from attack by their spouses, lovers, or any other
co-resident while outside of their home, but not inside of
subsection (C) , the judge found Jones established by a
preponderance of the evidence that she was entitled to
immunity under section 16-11-440(C) because she: (1) was not
engaged in unlawful activity at the time of the attack; (2)
was attacked in a place where she had a right to be; (3) did
not have a duty to retreat but, rather, had the right to
stand her ground and meet force with deadly force; and (4)
acted in self-defense. The State filed a direct appeal from
Standard of Review
A claim of immunity under the Act requires a pretrial
determination using a preponderance of the evidence standard,
which this court reviews under an abuse of discretion
standard of review." State v. Curry, 406 S.C.
364, 370, 752 S.E.2d 263, 266 (2013); see State
v. Duncan, 392 S.C. 404, 411, 709 S.E.2d 662, 665 (2011)
(recognizing that the proper standard for the circuit court
to use in determining immunity under the Act is a
preponderance of the evidence). An abuse of discretion occurs
when the trial court's ruling is based on an error of law
or, when grounded in factual conclusions, is without
evidentiary support. State v. Pittman, 373 S.C. 527,
647 S.E.2d 144 (2007).
State contends Jones is not immune from prosecution under
section 16-11-440(C) because the stabbing occurred in
Jones's residence and not in " another place where
she had a right to be" as identified in subsection (C).
Because the South Carolina Legislature used the phrase "
dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle" in subsections
(A), (B), (D), and (E) of section 16-11-440, the State
maintains the Legislature's purposeful use of the term
" another place" in subsection (C) means the
Legislature clearly intended subsection (C) to apply to
places other than a defendant's dwelling, residence, or
the State argues that if the Legislature intended the Act to
cover scenarios similar to the one presented in Jones's
case, then subsection (B) would not expressly limit the
application of subsection (A) when the person "
[a]gainst whom the deadly force is used has the right to be
in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or
occupied vehicle." Finally, the State asserts the
legislative intent of the Act was to expand the common law
Castle Doctrine to include an occupied vehicle and place of
business, which was accomplished by the enactment of
subsections (A) and (C), respectively.
subsection (C) is applicable, the State claims the judge
erred in finding Jones established that she was acting in
self-defense when she stabbed Lee. The State submits the
evidence in the record does not support the judge's
determination that Jones believed she was in imminent danger
of losing her life or sustaining bodily injury and that such
fear was reasonable. The State notes that no witnesses saw
Lee hit or attack Jones just prior to the stabbing. The State
also points out that Jones voluntarily returned to the
apartment after the initial physical altercation and was not
being held against her will as Lee was insisting that she
leave the apartment. Consequently, the State contends the
judge erred in granting Jones immunity from prosecution under
Applicability of Subsection (C)
Castle Doctrine Codified / Default into Subsection
the Castle Doctrine, " [o]ne attacked, without fault on
his part, on his own premises, has the right, in establishing
his plea of self-defense, to claim immunity from the law of
retreat, which ordinarily is an essential element of that
defense." State v. Gordon, 128 S.C. 422, 425,
122 S.E. 501, 502 (1924) (citation omitted). The Legislature
explicitly codified the Castle Doctrine when it promulgated
the Act and extended its protection, when applicable, to
include an occupied vehicle and a person's place of
business. See S.C. Code Ann. § 16-11-420(A)
(2015) ( " It is the intent of the General Assembly to
codify the common law Castle Doctrine ...