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SC Legislature wanted to drop gun possession charges after law change. McMaster said no

In World
May 22, 2024

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general, said no to three bills Tuesday, including one that would have wiped away pending illegal possession of a gun charges.

All three vetoes deal with bills expunging or dismissing charges. All three bill passed the state Legislature earlier this year with veto-proof margins.

The bill dealing with gun charges was meant to clean up an issue that started in March when the state enacted constitutional carry, which authorizes anyone allowed to have weapon to carry it openly without a permit.

The bill, S. 1166, would have dismissed all pending unlawful possession of a handgun that were nullified by the constitutional carry bill.

“This is really a fix to bring fairness to the situation,” said state Sen. Deon Tedder, D-Charleston, one of the sponsors on the bill.

Tedder said this provision should have been included in the constitutional carry legislation.

Under the constitutional carry law, those with a conviction for unlawful possession could have the charge expunged.

“What we didn’t account for is people who could be convicted after the governor signed the bill,” Tedder said.

Unlawful possession charges that served as probable cause for another offense such as illegal drug possession, arising from the same incident, would not have been dropped, under the bill.

McMaster, in his veto message, said he is opposed to mandatory and blanket dismissals of pending criminal charges.

“When the defendants who would benefit from these dismissals committed their alleged crimes, their alleged actions were, in fact, unlawful,” McMaster wrote. “To be sure, those actions might not be illegal today, but that distinction misses the critical point that such actions were illegal at the time they were committed.”

McMaster said he is wary of limiting prosecutor discretion in their cases and the legislation strips a prosecutor’s ability to make individual determinations.

“Every case is unique, and the prosecutors in our state should be permitted to evaluate each case based on the law and the facts,” McMaster wrote. “Some charges might warrant dismissal; other charges may warrant continued prosecution.”

Tedder added only charges for nonviolent possession offenses would have been dismissed. Tedder did not immediately have an estimate of how many cases that would have qualified.

“I get that yes, prosecutors have the discretion and they should know when and when not to dismiss charges, and there are a lot of solicitors who have been doing that, but there are some that are still forcing people to plead guilty to that charge,” Tedder said.

McMaster also vetoed S. 112, a bill that allows convictions for writing bad checks within a three-year period to expunged. Ten years would have had to pass since the bad checks were written and the defendant can have no other convictions and full restitution has to be paid to qualify for the expungement, under the bill.

McMaster also vetoed H. 4248, a bill to allow for conditional discharges for people, with no previous convictions, who sell alcohol to people underage.

The seller had to plead guilty and pay a fee up to $350 to be used for drug treatment court. A record would be expunged after the defendant successfully completed probation.

“I appreciate the laudable goal of helping people secure employment and recognize the challenges that individuals with criminal records face when applying for jobs,” McMaster wrote. “A person has paid his debt to society and reformed his life deserves the opportunity to work and support his family. An individual’s criminal history can — and should — be contextualized and considered in light of the totality of the circumstances, but it should not be erased.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to return next month to take up possible veto overrides.

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