S.C. Supreme Court hears prosecutorial misconduct case

The S.C. Supreme heard oral arguments Wednesday in the appeal of Jerry Buck Inman, who pled guilty to murder and was sentenced to death in Spartanburg County. During the sentencing phase of the trial, Solicitor Bob Ariail threatened to prosecute the defense’s mitigation witness because she was not licensed in South Carolina, prompting her to refuse to testify.

The defense had hired a social worker to testify about Inman’s mental illness and troubled childhood. But during questioning about her credentials, Solicitor Bob Ariail told the social worker she was testifying without a proper license in South Carolina and suggested she could face charges for practicing without a license.
Toal said the court has made it clear South Carolina will accept out-of-state licenses and called Ariail’s questioning a bullying tactic and an attempt to “scare the very life out of this witness.”
“This court is deeply concerned with this win at all costs attitude among some of the state’s solicitors,” Toal said. “How can we get that message out?”

The trial judge ruled that what Ariail did was prosecutorial misconduct. The only way to send a message is 1) to overturn convictions where misconduct occurred; 2) to discipline prosecutors who commit misconduct; 3) to allow tort liability in appropriate cases; or 4) to allow criminal liability in appropriate cases. 3 and 4 are not going to happen. 2 is not likely to happen, although there are times when disciplinary counsel takes notice (for example the ethics trial against the Maricopa, Arizona, county attorney which is going on now). As a practical matter, the only sanction that is left is in the hands of the appellate courts.
Overturn the sentence. Inman is not going anywhere. If I read the news account correctly, he asked for the death penalty – he probably is going to get it. If he does not, he is still not going anywhere – he pled to capital murder and he will receive at a minimum a sentence of life without parole. Why a prosecutor feels that it is necessary to act the way that Ariail did is beyond me – there is no need to cheat or bully in order to win a case like Inman’s. Why not take the high ground, wear the white hat, prosecute the case honestly and ethically, and get a clean conviction and sentence?
The State article highlights some prior South Carolina cases where the death penalty has been overturned as a result of prosecutorial misconduct:

The state Supreme Court has dealt several times with prosecutors who crossed the lines of fairness in pursuit of a death sentence. In 2000, the court overturned the death sentence of David McClure for killing his father and his girlfriend in Barnwell County because then-Solicitor Barbara Morgan sat in the witness chair and suggested McClure had no remorse for the crime because he did not testify.
In 2003, the justices overturned a death penalty case for a man convicted of killing a Horry County police officer because investigators in Solicitor Greg Hembree’s office talked to the families of jurors as part of background checks the day before the trial started. They said jurors could have found the checks intimidating.
And in 2007, the justices overturned a death sentence for a Lexington County father for killing his infant daughter after Solicitor Donnie Myers cried during his closing argument and staged a mock funeral procession for the baby that included the girl’s crib draped in a black shroud.

Since the fiasco in Spartanburg, where the trial had to be halted until the Court could confirm that the witness was permitted to testify, other prosecutors, including in Horry County, have attempted to discredit this same witness by cross examining her on what Ariail did – if what Ariail did is prosecutorial misconduct, other prosecutors are now following in his footsteps and committing misconduct in their own cases on the same issue. This is one reason why the Supreme Court needs to send a message on this issue – so there is no question that what they are doing is improper. Prosecutors should not be able to point to this case and justify their own conduct with the fact that Inman’s case was not overturned or that it was held to be harmless error.

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