October 15, 2019
From Charleston County Kristi Lea Harrington, Circuit Court
Appellate Defender Lara M. Caudy, of Columbia, for Appellant.
Attorney General Alan Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General
W. Jeffrey Young, Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka,
Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Melody J. Brown, and
Assistant Attorney General Sherrie Butterbaugh, all of
Columbia; and Solicitor Scarlett A. Wilson, of Charleston,
H. Blume, of Cornell Law School, of New York, and Lindsey S.
Vann, of Justice 360, of Columbia, for Amici Curiae, Justice
360 and Cornell Juvenile Justice Project.
months shy of his eighteenth birthday, petitioner Terrell
Smith stabbed his friend Brandon Bennett (the victim) to
death and, when the victim's father Darryl Bennett walked
in on the stabbing, laughed at Bennett's anguish and
attempted to stab Bennett to death as well. Following a jury
trial, Smith was convicted and sentenced to thirty-five
years' imprisonment for murder and thirty years'
imprisonment for attempted murder, the sentences to be run
16-3-20(A) of the South Carolina Code (2015) imposes a
mandatory minimum sentence of thirty years' imprisonment
on those convicted of murder, whether the offender is a
juvenile or an adult. Despite receiving a sentence longer
than the mandatory minimum, Smith argues the statute is
unconstitutional because it places juvenile and adult
homicide offenders on equal footing for sentencing purposes,
and the Eighth Amendment, as interpreted by the United States
Supreme Court (the Supreme Court) in Miller v.
Alabama,  forbids such a result. In accordance with
the overwhelming majority of states that have addressed
similar arguments, we hold the mandatory minimum sentence
imposed by section 16-3-20(A) is constitutional as applied to
juveniles and affirm Smith's convictions and sentences.
11, 2014, at approximately 7:00 a.m., Bennett awoke and
walked past the victim's bedroom on the way to the
kitchen. The house was quiet, as Bennett and the victim lived
there alone,  and Bennett observed the victim asleep in
his bed. After putting out food to later prepare breakfast,
Bennett returned to his own room. Several minutes later,
Bennett heard loud noises coming from the victim's room
and went to investigate.
entering the victim's room, Bennett saw Smith stabbing
the victim in his bed and telling the victim,
"Didn't I tell you I was going to get you[?]"
Bennett ran in to the room and threw Smith off of the victim.
Smith then attacked Bennett, stabbing at him unsuccessfully
with the knife while Bennett tried to shove the knife away
and disarm Smith. The victim attempted to assist Bennett but
was too weak from his wounds and collapsed on the floor.
Bennett accused Smith of killing his son (the victim), and
Smith laughed and said, "I'm going to kill you too
motherfucker." Eventually, Bennett was able to disarm
Smith, and Smith fled the scene. The victim died from his
wounds within minutes. Smith was apprehended shortly
a jury trial, Smith was convicted of murder, attempted
murder, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a
violent crime. Because Smith was seventeen at the time of the
murder and faced a potential sentence of life without the
possibility of parole, he was given an individualized
sentencing hearing pursuant to Aiken v. Byars, 410
S.C. 534, 765 S.E.2d 572 (2014) (plurality opinion). At the
Aiken hearing, a mitigation expert testified at
length about each of the five factors of youth identified in
Miller and Aiken and how those factors
applied to Smith.
also filed a motion requesting the circuit court declare
section 16-3-20(A) unconstitutional as applied to juveniles
because the statute did not sufficiently allow for an
individualized consideration of the unique characteristics of
youth, instead applying the same mandatory minimum sentence
to juveniles and adults alike. The circuit court summarily
denied the motion.
conclusion of the Aiken hearing, the circuit court
summarized the testimony related to each of the five factors
and sentenced Smith. Smith appealed, and we certified his