April 18, 2018
From Jasper County Michael G. Nettles, Circuit Court Judge
Appellate Defender Kathrine Haggard Hudgins, of Columbia, for
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Senior Assistant Deputy
Attorney General Megan Harrigan Jameson, Assistant Attorney
General Joshua Abraham Edwards, all of Columbia; and
Solicitor Isaac McDuffie Stone, III, of Bluffton, for
criminal action, Nathaniel Wright appeals his convictions for
voluntary manslaughter, possession of a weapon during the
commission of a violent crime, and failure to stop for a blue
light. Wright asserts the trial court erred in finding the
public defender's office did not have an actual conflict
of interest and denying Wright's request for a
continuance. We affirm.
October 1, 2014, Wright fatally shot his brother, Maurice
Wright, at their mother's home. That afternoon the two
began arguing about money each accused the other of owing.
The afternoon ended with Maurice dead-shot eight times. After
a short police chase, Deputy Leonard Brown arrested Wright,
who told him, "I'm not going to let [anyone]
disrespect me." The State charged Wright with murder,
possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent
crime, and failure to stop for a blue light.
to trial, Wright's appointed counsel filed a motion for a
continuance as well as a motion to be relieved as counsel.
Wright's motion for a continuance centered on evidence
that had been produced by the State in the week prior to
trial. Specifically, Wright's counsel asserted she had
not been given enough time to review medical records, jail
house phone calls, or speak with a confidential informant the
State indicated it intended to use as a witness. Wright's
counsel admitted she intended to listen to the phone calls
that evening and the State conceded it did not intend to use
the recordings in its case in chief. Wright's counsel
also admitted she had the medical records, but had not had an
opportunity to review them thoroughly.
regard to the motion to be relieved, Wright's counsel
requested the court relieve her because there was a conflict
of interest in the public defender's office. Wright's
counsel argued her direct supervisor represented one of the
witnesses against her client in obtaining a deal for his
testimony against Wright. The conflict did not manifest
itself until the State disclosed the witness the week prior
to trial. Wright's counsel argued she should not be
forced to continue representing Wright against his wishes
based on the conflict.
trial court then took sworn testimony from the Chief Public
Defender and Wright's counsel's supervisor. The trial
court asked both attorneys whether they discussed the case
with Wright's counsel and whether any confidential
information was disclosed regarding the two cases. They each
testified no confidential information was discussed.
trial court found, based on Rule 1.10(e) of the South
Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, that no actual
conflict of interest was present in this case. The trial
court found there had been no confidential information
discussed or disclosed between the lawyers representing
Wright or the witness. The trial court noted the rules allow
for a "Chinese Wall" to screen lawyers in the
public defender's office representing competing sides and
since the lawyers in this office had not discussed the case,
no actual conflict of interest existed.
the trial court's ruling on the conflict of interest
issue, Jared Newman, a private attorney, indicated a family
member had retained him to represent Wright. Newman stated he
did not believe he had time to review the evidence in this
"complex" murder case. The trial court indicated
his question to Newman was "what's your role in the
case here today? We're going forward. What's your
role?" Newman indicated he could serve as co-counsel,
but did not believe he could accept the role of lead counsel.
The trial court indicated he would allow Newman to act as
the trial, Newman performed the cross-examination of each of
the State's witnesses and performed the direct
examination of each of Wright's witnesses. He also
presented the closing statement. ...