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Castro v. State

Supreme Court of South Carolina

July 20, 2016

Nelson H. Castro, Petitioner,
v.
State of South Carolina, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2015-000021

          Submitted June 17, 2016

         Appeal From Horry County, The Honorable Larry B. Hyman, Jr., Circuit Court Judge The Honorable Kristi Lea Harrington, Post Conviction Judge

          Deputy Chief Appellate Defender Wanda H. Carter, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

          Attorney General Alan Wilson and Assistant Attorney General Caitlin Bazan Hastings, both of Columbia, for Respondent.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM

         Petitioner seeks a writ of certiorari from the dismissal of his application for post-conviction relief (PCR). We grant the petition for a writ of certiorari, dispense with further briefing, reverse the order of the PCR judge, and remand this matter for resentencing.

         FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         After a trial, petitioner was convicted of trafficking cocaine between twenty-eight and one hundred grams and was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment. Petitioner filed a timely motion for resentencing, which was denied after a hearing. Petitioner's conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Castro, Op. No. 2012-UP-378 (S.C. Ct. App. filed June 20, 2012).

         Petitioner filed an application for PCR alleging trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object when the trial judge improperly considered petitioner's decision to exercise his right to a jury trial as a factor in sentencing petitioner. The PCR judge denied relief, finding petitioner failed to meet his burden of proving the allegation.

         ISSUE

         Did the PCR judge err in finding petitioner failed to prove trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object when the trial judge considered petitioner's decision to exercise his constitutional right to a jury trial as a factor in sentencing petitioner?

         LAW/ANALYSIS

         In this case, petitioner was charged with four drug related offenses. One month before his trial, the State offered to dismiss several of petitioner's charges and recommend a minimum sentence in exchange for petitioner's decision to plead guilty to trafficking between twenty-eight and one hundred grams of cocaine. Petitioner declined the offer, and a trial date was set for his trafficking charge. Immediately preceding the trial, the trial judge explained to petitioner that the State's plea offer was still on the table, stating the following:

I have pre-tried this with your attorney, and I will tell you I am inclined to sentence on a plea [to] seven years. I would not be so inclined in the event of trial. Also, you would [sic] regardless of how this trial comes out, you would still be looking at the other three ...

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