Submitted October 4, 2019
Elizabeth Fielding Pringle, Kieley Marie Sutton, and
Constantine George Pournaras, of Columbia, for Petitioner.
Attorney General Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and
Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, of Columbia; and
Dana M. Thye, of Columbia, for Respondent.
granted Petitioner's request to hear this declaratory
judgment action in our original jurisdiction. Petitioner asks
us to declare section 44-23-410 of the South Carolina Code
(2018) unconstitutional because it precludes summary courts
from ordering competency evaluations when there is a question
of a defendant's competence to stand trial. Because we
hold section 44-23-410 does not preclude summary courts from
ordering competency evaluations, we decline to hold section
was charged with disorderly conduct, and the case was called
for trial in the City of Columbia municipal court. At trial,
Petitioner's attorney moved for a competency evaluation.
Following a hearing on the issue, the municipal court found
there was reason to believe Petitioner lacked the capacity to
understand the proceedings against her or to assist in her
own defense as a result of a lack of mental capacity.
Although the court found Petitioner was entitled to a
competency evaluation, the court held it did not have the
authority to order a competency evaluation because the
language of section 44-23-410 (2018) limits the authority to
order evaluations to circuit courts and family courts.
Accordingly, the court denied the motion for a competency
evaluation and stayed all proceedings in Petitioner's
person who is: (1) found [in public] in a grossly intoxicated
condition or otherwise conducts himself in a disorderly or
boisterous manner . . . is guilty of a misdemeanor"
entitled "public disorderly conduct." S.C. Code
Ann. § 16-17-530(A) (Supp. 2019). Subsection
16-17-530(A) provides that "upon conviction," the
defendant "must be fined not more than one hundred
dollars or be imprisoned for not more than thirty days."
Summary courts "shall have exclusive jurisdiction of
all criminal cases in which the punishment does not exceed a
fine of one hundred dollars or imprisonment for thirty
days." S.C. Code Ann. § 22-3-540
(2007). Therefore, a defendant charged with
disorderly conduct may not be tried in circuit court, but
must be tried in the exclusive jurisdiction of the summary
a person who lacks the capacity to understand the nature and
object of the proceedings against him, to consult with
counsel, and to assist in preparing a defense may not be
subjected to a trial. Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S.
162, 171 (1975). This prohibition is "fundamental to an
adversary system of justice." Id. at 172. The
conviction of an accused person who is legally incompetent
violates due process, and state procedures must be adequate
to protect this right. Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S.
375, 378 (1966). Therefore, a summary court must have the
power to order that an expert evaluate a defendant the court
suspects lacks competency, to determine whether the
court's suspicion is valid. Otherwise, due process
prevents the court from proceeding to trial.
44-23-410(A) (2018) provides, in part:
Whenever a judge of the circuit court or family court has
reason to believe that a person on trial before him, charged
with the commission of a criminal offense or civil contempt,
is not fit to stand trial because the person lacks the
capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to
assist in his own defense as a result of a lack of mental
capacity, the judge shall: (1) order examination of the
person [by the Department of Mental Health or the Department
of Disabilities and Special Needs]; or (2) order the person
committed for examination and observation to an appropriate
facility of the Department of Mental Health or the Department
of Disabilities and Special Needs."
Nothing in section 44-23-410 references summary courts or
their authority to order competency evaluations. Rather,
section 44-23-410 provides procedural requirements for
circuit courts and family courts ordering competency
evaluations. However, there is also nothing in section
44-23-410 prohibiting a summary court from ordering an
evaluation. To construe the section as prohibiting a summary
court from ordering an evaluation when the court suspects the
defendant is not competent would render the section
unconstitutional. "We will not construe statutes to be
unconstitutional when susceptible to a constitutional
interpretation." Hampton v. Haley, 403 ...