Reed v. Becka

Decision Date18 January 1999
Docket NumberNo. 2924.,2924.
Citation333 S.C. 676,511 S.E.2d 396
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals
PartiesThomas & Maureen REED, parents and natural guardians of Melissa Reed, a minor child and the victim of a violent crime, Primary Appellants, and The State of South Carolina, Secondary Appellant, v. Jeffrey Thomas BECKA, Respondent.

Thomas J. Rubillo, of Georgetown; Assistant Attorney General G. Robert DeLoach, III, of Columbia; and Assistant Solicitor Caroline Fox, of Conway, for Appellants.

M. Gregory McCollum, of Myrtle Beach; and L. Morgan Martin, of Conway, for Respondent.


Jeffrey Thomas Becka was indicted for second degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor. The Solicitor's office made an oral plea offer of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature (ABHAN) with probation recommended, which Becka's counsel accepted orally. After consulting with the victim's family, the State sought to withdraw the offer. The circuit judge, finding the plea agreement a valid and enforceable contract, denied the State's motion to withdraw the offer. The victim's parents and the State appeal the order. We reverse.


Becka was indicted for second degree CSC with a minor based on allegations he sexually assaulted a fifteen year old girl and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Victim was on vacation with her family at Myrtle Beach at the time of the alleged incident. Becka spontaneously confessed he had intercourse with Victim. Specifically, in the police incident report, the reporting officer noted Becka commented Victim "must have been a virgin because she was `tight as shit.'" A rape protocol kit showed Victim's hymen was torn.

The State entered into plea negotiations which resulted in no agreement. Later, the State orally offered to allow Becka to plead guilty to ABHAN. After counsel for Becka orally accepted the offer, the Solicitor consulted Victim's family. Upon learning Victim attempted suicide and suffered depression and post traumatic stress disorder stemming from the alleged attack, the State moved to withdraw the plea offer. Victim moved to invalidate the plea offer. Becka objected to the withdrawal of the plea offer. The trial judge issued an order concluding Becka's acceptance of the offer formed a valid plea agreement contract. The court prohibited the State from withdrawing from the terms of the agreement.

May the State withdraw a plea offer or agreement if the defendant has not yet pled guilty or otherwise detrimentally relied upon the agreement?
A. State's Appeal

Appeal may only be taken from a final judgment or appealable order. Rule 201(a), SCACR. Among the orders which are directly appealable are orders "affecting a substantial right made in an action when such order ... in effect determines the action and prevents a judgment from which an appeal might be taken or discontinues the action." S.C.Code Ann. § 14-3-330(2)(a) (1977). A criminal defendant may not appeal until sentence is imposed. State v. Miller, 289 S.C. 426, 346 S.E.2d 705 (1986). The State may appeal some orders before final judgment. For example, a "pre-trial order granting the suppression of evidence which significantly impairs the prosecution of a criminal case is directly appealable under S.C.Code Ann. § 14-3-330(2)(a) (1976)." State v. McKnight, 287 S.C. 167, 168, 337 S.E.2d 208, 209 (1985).

Once a court accepts a defendant's guilty plea, jeopardy attaches. State v. Wilkins, 310 S.C. 81, 425 S.E.2d 68 (Ct.App.1992). Because it so significantly impairs the prosecution of a criminal case, an order which prohibits the State from withdrawing a plea offer is directly appealable by the State under § 14-3-330(2)(a).

B. Victim's Appeal

A victim, as defined in S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-1510 (Supp.1997), possesses no rights in the appellate process. Nothing in our Constitution or statutes provides the "victim" standing to appeal the trial court's order. Additionally, the rights granted by the South Carolina Constitution and statutes are enforceable by a writ of mandamus, rather than direct participation at the trial level.


This Court previously denied Becka's motion to strike the victim's mother's affidavit and its various attachments. We noted, however, pursuant to Rule 209(c), SCACR, the matter would not be given substantive consideration if it was not presented to the trial court. Upon review of the record, we find the material was presented to the trial court.


In recent years, our General Assembly has enacted laws to protect victims' rights. For example, a victim is entitled to a free copy of the initial incident report and a document describing the victim's rights and eligibility for services and benefits. S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-1520 (Supp. 1997). Law enforcement must reasonably attempt to notify a victim when the accused is arrested, detained, or brought before a court for a bond or other pretrial release hearing. S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-1525 (Supp.1997). If a victim requests, the facility or agency having custody of an accused or convicted person must notify the victim if the person escapes, is released, or is transferred. S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-1530 (Supp.1997).

When a general sessions charge is received, the prosecuting agency must reasonably attempt to notify each victim of his right to submit an oral or written victim impact statement, or both, for consideration by the circuit court judge at the disposition proceeding. S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-1545(A) (Supp. 1997). The prosecuting agency must offer the victim assistance in preparing a comprehensive victim impact statement and assistance in reviewing and updating the statement before the case is disposed. S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-1545(B) (Supp. 1997). The State must inform victims of (1) the applicable procedures and practices of the criminal system; (2) their right to legal counsel and of any available civil remedies; (3) the status and progress of a case, upon the victim's request; and (4) each hearing, trial, or other proceeding. S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-1545 (Supp.1997).

The purpose of these enactments is to "preserve and protect victims' rights to justice and due process regardless of race, sex, age, religion, or economic status." S.C. Const. art. I, § 24. South Carolina Code Ann. § 16-3-1505 (Supp.1997) further expounds on the legislative intent:

In recognition of the civic and moral duty of victims of and witnesses to a crime to cooperate fully and voluntarily with law enforcement and prosecution agencies, and in further recognition of the continuing importance of this citizen cooperation to state and local law enforcement efforts and to the general effectiveness and the well-being of the criminal and juvenile justice systems of this State, and to implement the rights guaranteed to victims in the Constitution of this State, the General Assembly declares its intent, in this article, to ensure that all victims of and witnesses to a crime are treated with dignity, respect, courtesy, and sensitivity; that the rights and services extended in this article to victims of and witnesses to a crime are honored and protected by law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and judges in a manner no less vigorous than the protections afforded criminal defendants; and that the State has a responsibility to provide support to a network of services for victims of a crime, including victims of domestic violence and criminal sexual assault.

In addition to the aforementioned protected rights, a victim has the right to be kept abreast of important prosecutorial events. Pursuant to Article I, § 24(A)(7) of the South Carolina Constitution, victims of crime have the right to "confer with the prosecution, after the crime against the victim has been charged, before the trial or before any disposition and informed of the disposition." The victims' rights created by this section "may be subject to a writ of mandamus." S.C. Const. art. I, § 24(B). South Carolina Code Ann. § 16-3-1545(H) mandates: "The prosecuting agency must discuss a case with the victim. The agency must confer with each victim about the disposition of the case including, but not limited to, diversions and plea negotiations."

At the time the trial judge in this case heard the motions regarding Becka's plea, the relevant rights Victim was entitled to were to discuss the case with the Solicitor and "be informed of any offers to plea bargain with the defendant." S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-1530(C)(10), (12) (1985). This Court is desirous of protecting the rights of victims as mandated by the statutory law and by the South Carolina Constitution. Nothing short of full and complete enforceability of these rights should receive this Court's imprimatur.

Yet, while victims clearly have numerous valuable rights at the trial level protected by our laws and enforceable by writ of mandamus, these rights fall short of giving the victim the right to veto a proposed plea agreement. The Solicitor has unfettered discretion in that regard. Although victims must be notified of plea offers, the General Assembly has not empowered victims with the right to reject a proposed plea offer and force a prosecutor to trial or back into negotiations. Under current South Carolina law, Solicitors have more duties toward victims than they had in the past, but their prosecutorial discretion is not contracted or limited by victims' rights laws. Cf. In re Brown, 294 S.C. 235, 238, 363 S.E.2d 688, 690 (1988)

(holding State v. Ridge, 269 S.C. 61, 236 S.E.2d 401 (1977), "does not impart jurisdiction on the trial court to hear members of the public, whether statutory `victims' or not, contest a solicitor's nol pros.").

Thus, in the case sub judice, Victim does not have the right to veto the plea agreement.


The State contends that because...

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