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Robinson v. State

Supreme Court of South Carolina

February 7, 2018

Michael Lee Robinson, Petitioner,
v.
State of South Carolina, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2015-001773

          Submitted November 15, 2017

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

         Appeal from Greenville County Perry H. Gravely, Post-Conviction Relief Judge

          Appellate Defender Susan B. Hackett, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

          Attorney General Alan Wilson and Assistant Attorney General DeShawn H. Mitchell, both of Columbia, for Respondent.

          KITTREDGE CHIEF JUSTICE

         This is a post-conviction relief (PCR) matter. Petitioner Michael Lee Robinson was indicted in 2013 on charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor. The alleged offenses occurred between 1998 and 2000. However, between 2001 and 2012, the CSC statute was amended, increasing the sentencing range for this crime. The State offered "to let" Petitioner plead guilty under the prior sentencing law but insisted that Petitioner would be subject to the increased 2012 sentencing scheme if he rejected the offer and went to trial.[1] Plea counsel, apparently unaware of the inapplicability of the 2012 sentencing enhancement under any circumstances, recommended Petitioner accept the offer. Based on counsel's recommendation, Petitioner pled guilty.

         The PCR court denied relief, and this Court granted a writ of certiorari to review that decision. Petitioner pled guilty on plea counsel's advice to accept the plea offer because Petitioner would otherwise be subject to an increased sentence based on a statute amended after the offense date. However, Petitioner was not subject to the increased sentence in the 2012 amended statute, for that would have violated the ex post facto clauses of the United States Constitution and South Carolina Constitution. Because the PCR court's decision is controlled by an error of law, we reverse.

         I.

         In February 2013, a Greenville County grand jury indicted Petitioner on several counts of first-degree CSC with a minor for alleged acts that occurred between July 1, 1998, and July 31, 2000. At the time the alleged acts occurred, the crime of first-degree CSC with a minor carried a sentencing range of zero to thirty years. S.C. Code Ann. §§ 16-3-655(A)(1) (1984) (defining the crime), 16-1-90(A) (1998) (listing the crime as a Class A felony), 16-1-20(A)(1) (1995) (providing the penalty for a Class A felony as zero to thirty years). However, in subsequent years, the sentencing range for first-degree CSC with a minor was increased to twenty-five years to life. S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-655(D)(1) (2012). The State offered a plea deal for Petitioner to plead guilty to one count of first-degree CSC with a minor and, in exchange, the State would "agree to let" Petitioner "be sentenced under the old version of the law" and the remaining charges would be dismissed. Plea counsel recommended that Petitioner accept the State's offer to avoid the harsher sentence under the 2012 amended statute. Plea counsel never informed Petitioner that under no circumstances could he be sentenced under the 2012 amended statute.

         Petitioner maintains that plea counsel's deficient advice was not sufficiently cured during the guilty plea hearing. The plea judge initially referenced the sentencing range under the 2012 amended statute, as the following colloquy reveals:

The Court: Okay. You're up here on this indictment. And it is 2013-674. It alleges that you did in Greenville County between July 1, 1998 and July 31 of 2000 commit a sexual battery on T.H., who was less than eleven years of age. CSC with a minor, first degree, twenty-five years to life.
[Plea Counsel]: Judge, ---
The Court: Do you understand that? ...

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