State v. Hunsberger, Appellate Case No. 2015–000083

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtCHIEF JUSTICE PLEICONES
Citation794 S.E.2d 368,418 S.C. 335
Parties The State, Respondent, v. Alexander L. Hunsberger, Petitioner.
Docket NumberOpinion No. 27671,Appellate Case No. 2015–000083
Decision Date12 October 2016

418 S.C. 335
794 S.E.2d 368

The State, Respondent,
v.
Alexander L. Hunsberger, Petitioner.

Appellate Case No. 2015–000083
Opinion No. 27671

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard December 2, 2015
Filed October 12, 2016
Rehearing Denied December 16, 2016


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

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Senior Assistant Attorney General Melody Jane Brown, all of Columbia, and Solicitor Donald V. Myers, of Lexington, all for Respondent.

CHIEF JUSTICE PLEICONES:

418 S.C. 340

Petitioner Alexander L. Hunsberger (Alex) was sentenced to thirty-three years' incarceration for his part in the murder of Samuel Sturrup. Alex argued on appeal that the trial judge erred in denying his speedy trial motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed. State v. Hunsberger , Op. No. 2014–UP–381, 2014 WL 5772563 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Nov. 5, 2014). We granted Alex's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' decision, and now reverse.

The acts that led to Alex's prosecution for murder are heinous. Sturrup allegedly stole money from Steven Barnes,1 the purported head of a robbery and prostitution ring in

794 S.E.2d 371

Georgia. In an effort to force Sturrup to divulge where the stolen money was located, Barnes allegedly beat, and caused others to beat, Sturrup at a location in Augusta, Georgia. Sturrup was then placed in the trunk of a vehicle and brought

418 S.C. 341

from Georgia to South Carolina by Alex and his brother Julio Hunsberger.2 Sturrup was taken into a field and shot by several individuals including the Hunsberger brothers. Barnes is alleged to have fired the fatal shot.

In January 2002, Alex was arrested in South Carolina and in March 2002, he was indicted for the murder of Sturrup. In June 2002, Alex's request for bail was denied and his renewed request was denied in April 2004. In November 2004, Alex moved for an order requiring the State to try him during the next two terms of court, or if no trial were held, that he be released on bail, citing S.C. Code Ann. § 17–23–90 (2014)3 and the state and federal constitutional guarantees of due process and speedy trial. While this motion was denied in December 2004, the circuit court judge found the delay "clearly bordering on the excessive" and admonished the State to either try Alex or release him to Georgia which had placed a hold on him.

In an effort to resolve the case, Judge Keesley offered to seek a special February 2005 term of court to allow the State to try Alex then, but the solicitor declined. Following notification that the State would not go forward with Alex's trial, in January 2005 Judge Keesley granted Alex bail but ordered him held unless Georgia released its hold. Alex was subsequently extradited to Georgia, and in September 2006, he was convicted there of kidnapping with bodily injury of Sturrup, and sentenced to life imprisonment. While imprisoned in Georgia, Alex repeatedly declined to be a witness against Steven Barnes in Barnes' South Carolina death penalty case. Barnes was tried and convicted in November 2010.

In early 2011, Alex was extradited to South Carolina. In January 2012, the State called Alex's case for trial and Alex moved for dismissal of his charges, claiming his state and

418 S.C. 342

federal rights to a speedy trial had been violated. The motion was denied, as was his renewed request made at mid-trial.

ISSUE

Did the Court of Appeals err in affirming the trial court's denial of Alex's motion to dismiss his charges under both the United States and South Carolina Constitutions due to a violation of his right to a speedy trial?

ANALYSIS

Alex argues that his right to a speedy trial under both the United States and South Carolina Constitutions was violated, and therefore, his murder charge should be dismissed. We analyze the issue under the Sixth Amendment, and agree.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial." U.S. Const. amend. VI. Similarly, the South Carolina Constitution provides that "Any person charged with an offense shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial." S.C. Const. art. I, § 14. A speedy trial means a trial without unreasonable and unnecessary delay. State v. Langford , 400 S.C. 421, 441, 735 S.E.2d 471, 482 (2012) (quoting Wheeler v. State , 247 S.C. 393, 400, 147 S.E.2d 627, 630 (1966) ).

The remedy for a speedy trial violation is dismissal of the charges. Langford , 400 S.C. at 442, 735 S.E.2d at 482 (internal citation omitted). The trial court's ruling on a motion for speedy trial is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. Id. at 442, 735 S.E.2d at 482 (internal citation omitted). An abuse of discretion occurs when the court's decision is based on an error of law or upon

794 S.E.2d 372

factual findings that are without evidentiary support. Id. at 442, 735 S.E.2d at 482 (internal citation omitted).

An accused's speedy trial right begins when he is "indicted, arrested, or otherwise officially accused." Langford , 400 S.C. at 442, 735 S.E.2d at 482 (citing United States v. MacDonald , 456 U.S. 1, 6, 102 S.Ct. 1497, 71 L.Ed.2d 696 (1982) ). To trigger a speedy trial analysis, the accused must allege that the interval between accusation and trial has

418 S.C. 343

crossed the threshold dividing ordinary from "presumptively prejudicial" delay, since, by definition, he cannot complain that the government has denied him a "speedy" trial if it has, in fact, prosecuted his case with customary promptness. Doggett v. U.S. , 505 U.S. 647, 652, 112 S.Ct. 2686, 120 L.Ed.2d 520 (1992). Presumptively prejudicial delay exists when an accused is not prosecuted with ordinary promptness. See Doggett , 505 U.S. at 651–52, 112 S.Ct. 2686 (1992). Once the accused has met this initial burden, a court must look to four factors, among the totality of the circumstances, to decide whether the defendant's right to a speedy trial has been denied. Barker v. Wingo , 407 U.S. 514, 530–31, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972) ; see also Langford , 400 S.C. at 441, 735 S.E.2d at 482. These factors are: (1) length of delay; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) the accused's assertion of his right to a speedy trial; and (4) whether the delay prejudiced the accused. Barker at 531–32, 92 S.Ct. 2182. A speedy trial claim must be "analyzed in terms of the circumstances of each case, balancing the conduct of the prosecution and the defense." State v. Pittman , 373 S.C. 527, 549, 647 S.E.2d 144, 155 (2008) (citing Barker , 407 U.S. at 530, 92 S.Ct. 2182 ).

Because the timeline is essential to determining whether Alex was denied a speedy trial, the important dates are outlined below:

• January 25, 2002: Arrest.

• March 2002: Indictment

• November 17, 2004: Alex makes first Speedy Trial motion.

• December 2, 2004: Judge Keesley declines to release Alex on bail but admonishes the State to be prepared to try Alex in February 2005 unless the solicitor notifies the court he will allow Georgia to take custody. Court order acknowledges problems arising from multiple defendants and different jurisdictions in addition to the possibility that South Carolina will seek the death penalty against Alex. Judge Keesley then writes: "However, Georgia has disposed of the cases involving the co-defendants over a year ago, and the court has instructed the Solicitor's office on at least two prior occasions that it must make a decision about whether to serve the death penalty notice."
418 S.C. 344
• January 28, 2005: The State declines Judge Keesley's offer to try Alex during a special February 2005 term of Court; Judge Keesley grants Alex bail, subject to hold placed on him by Georgia.

• Early 2005: Alex is extradited to Georgia.

• September 12, 2006: Alex is convicted in Georgia of kidnapping Sturrup with bodily injury and sentenced to life imprisonment. Alex appeals.

• November 2010: Barnes is convicted and sentenced to death in South Carolina.

• September 2011: Alex is made aware South Carolina is seeking his extradition.

• October 2011: Alex is extradited to South Carolina.

• January 3, 2012: Alex's murder case is called in South Carolina, and he makes a motion for dismissal based on the denial of his right to a speedy trial. He renews this motion after the State rests.

In this case appellate review of the trial court's ruling is complicated by the court's failure to make specific findings, relying instead on general statements about the complexity of the cases, problems involving multiple jurisdictions, and Alex's failure to show actual prejudice.4

794 S.E.2d 373

A. Triggering Factor and Length of Delay

The Court of Appeals held that the three-year period between Alex's...

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10 practice notes
  • In re Ellison, No. 112,256
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • December 9, 2016
    ...applying the [Barker ] test and making its determination, and that determination will be accorded due deference.”); State v. Hunsberger , 418 S.C. 335, 794 S.E.2d 368, 2016 WL 5930127, at *2 (S.C. October 12, 2016) (analyzing defendant's federal and state speedy trial challenges for an abus......
  • State v. Harrison, Appellate Case No. 2018-002128
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 20, 2021
    ...the majority of a ten-year delay between the dates of the indictment and when the State called the case for trial. State v. Hunsberger , 418 S.C. 335, 352, 794 S.E.2d 368, 377 (2016). Importantly, in analyzing whether the State violated the defendant's constitutional rights, we examined whe......
  • State v. Barnes, Appellate Case No. 2017-002140
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 22, 2020
    ...court discussed the underlying facts in an appeal involving one of Barnes's co-defendants, Alexander Hunsberger. See State v. Hunsberger , 418 S.C. 335, 794 S.E.2d 368 (2016).3 Pursuant to section 17-11-10, Art. III(b), Barnes submitted his request for final disposition to the warden of the......
  • Hunsberger v. Myers, No.: 8:18-cv-02548-TMC-JDA
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • February 22, 2019
    ...Court of South Carolina subsequently granted certiorari and reversed Plaintiff's conviction in a 3-2 decision, State v. Hunsberger, 794 S.E.2d 368 (S.C. 2016); id. at 377-82 (Toal, J., dissenting).5 In the present action, Plaintiff seeks money damages for the violation of his constitutional......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • In re Ellison, No. 112,256
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • December 9, 2016
    ...applying the [Barker ] test and making its determination, and that determination will be accorded due deference.”); State v. Hunsberger , 418 S.C. 335, 794 S.E.2d 368, 2016 WL 5930127, at *2 (S.C. October 12, 2016) (analyzing defendant's federal and state speedy trial challenges for an abus......
  • State v. Harrison, Appellate Case No. 2018-002128
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 20, 2021
    ...the majority of a ten-year delay between the dates of the indictment and when the State called the case for trial. State v. Hunsberger , 418 S.C. 335, 352, 794 S.E.2d 368, 377 (2016). Importantly, in analyzing whether the State violated the defendant's constitutional rights, we examined whe......
  • State v. Barnes, Appellate Case No. 2017-002140
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 22, 2020
    ...court discussed the underlying facts in an appeal involving one of Barnes's co-defendants, Alexander Hunsberger. See State v. Hunsberger , 418 S.C. 335, 794 S.E.2d 368 (2016).3 Pursuant to section 17-11-10, Art. III(b), Barnes submitted his request for final disposition to the warden of the......
  • Hunsberger v. Myers, No.: 8:18-cv-02548-TMC-JDA
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • February 22, 2019
    ...Court of South Carolina subsequently granted certiorari and reversed Plaintiff's conviction in a 3-2 decision, State v. Hunsberger, 794 S.E.2d 368 (S.C. 2016); id. at 377-82 (Toal, J., dissenting).5 In the present action, Plaintiff seeks money damages for the violation of his constitutional......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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