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State v. Simpson

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

January 8, 2020

The State, Appellant,
Jamie Lee Simpson, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2016-002210

          Heard April 9, 2019

          Appeal From Richland County Alison Renee Lee, Circuit Court Judge

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General William M. Blitch, Jr., of Columbia, both for Appellant.

          Appellate Defender Susan Barber Hackett, of Columbia, for Respondent.

          McDONALD, J.

         The State appealed Jamie Lee Simpson's sentence following his guilty plea to four counts of second degree sexual exploitation of a minor, arguing the circuit court erred in permitting home detention in lieu of the minimum two years' imprisonment mandated by section 16-15-405 of the South Carolina Code. We reverse.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On February 19, 2014, Special Investigator Lucinda McKellar of the South Carolina Attorney General's Office conducted an online investigation using file sharing programs to identify individuals distributing child pornography. McKellar was able to download and receive five files containing child pornography from a user later identified as Simpson. The videos were explicit and disturbing, containing images of children being forced to perform sexual acts and sexual assaults against children as young as six.

         During a second investigation in March 2014, McKellar was again able to download explicit child pornography from Simpson. After obtaining subscriber information, McKellar identified Simpson's Richland County residence as the location from which the child pornography was being shared.

         The Richland County Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant on Simpson's home on January 9, 2015, and seized several computers. Simpson admitted to police that he searched and downloaded child pornography using a file sharing network. A forensic examination revealed child pornography or the remnants and artifacts of child pornography on multiple seized devices, with file dates from 2006 through 2014. The Sheriff's Office arrested Simpson on January 13, 2015, charging him with sexual exploitation of a minor in the second degree.

         On November 4, 2015, Dr. Thomas Martin of Martin Psychiatric Services conducted a comprehensive psychosexual evaluation of Simpson, which included a full interview and the review of discovery and investigative reports provided by the State. Dr. Martin concluded Simpson was not a pedophile, a psychopath, or a sexual predator. Following the evaluation, Simpson attended group therapy sessions with Dr. Martin twice a month. According to Dr. Martin, Simpson actively participated in the sessions, showing he was motivated for treatment, and cooperated in Dr. Martin's medication regimen, which included treatment for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other combat-related issues. Additionally, Dr. Martin opined Simpson is "a very low risk to sexually reoffend."

         In January 2016, the Richland County Grand Jury indicted Simpson on four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in the second degree under section 16-15-405(A) of the South Carolina Code (2015).[1] Simpson pled guilty to all counts on October 18, 2016.

         Second degree sexual exploitation of a minor is classified as a violent felony, [2] and § 16-15-405 mandates that upon conviction a person "must be imprisoned not less than two years nor more than ten years. No part of the minimum sentence may be suspended nor is the individual convicted eligible for parole until he has served the minimum sentence." S.C. Code Ann. § 16-15-405(D) (2015) (emphasis added).

         At sentencing, Simpson requested to serve the two-year, mandatory minimum sentence on home detention. Simpson argued serving his sentence on home detention would satisfy both the Legislature's penological concerns as well as any community safety concerns. Emphasizing his military service and lack of a prior criminal history, Simpson argued home detention would protect the public and deter future criminal conduct. Additionally, Simpson noted if he were to be incarcerated for more than sixty days, he would lose his military benefits and retirement pay, causing great financial hardship to his family and the likely loss of their home. Concerning his rehabilitation, Simpson argued incarceration "would provide no needed treatment or vocational training" and his "continued access to private counseling and treatment with Dr. Thomas Martin [would] be far more effective to maintain his mental health than the correctional environment of a prison."

         After reviewing § 24-13-1530, which addresses home detention programs as an alternative to incarceration, the plea court stated, "based on the testimony that was heard from Dr. Martin, apparently [Simpson] is a low risk [for reoffending]. The question really comes down to the non-violent adult offenders." Acknowledging "[t]his particular crime has been classified as violent under the statute," the circuit court expressed concern as to whether or not the home detention program "is available." However, the court found Simpson "would be a good candidate for home detention" and opined that despite the Legislature's classification of second ...

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