Wade v. State, 25409.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Citation348 S.C. 255,559 S.E.2d 843
Decision Date11 February 2002
Docket NumberNo. 25409.,25409.
PartiesStacy WADE, Petitioner, v. STATE of South Carolina, Respondent.

Senior Assistant Appellate Defender Wanda H. Haile, of South Carolina Office of Appellate Defense, of Columbia, for petitioner.

Attorney General Charles M. Condon, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General B. Allen Bullard, Jr., and Assistant Attorney General David Spencer, all of Columbia, for respondent.


Justice BURNETT:

Stacy Wade ("Wade") appeals the PCR court's recommendation to revoke his inmate credits for falsely testifying under S.C.Code Ann. § 24-27-200 (Supp.2000). We reverse.


Wade originally pled guilty, as part of a plea bargain, to various charges including distribution of crack cocaine. Wade did not appeal, but ultimately filed for post-conviction relief ("PCR").

Wade asserts he is entitled to relief because he was coerced into pleading guilty. Wade insists he pled guilty after his attorney instructed him to do so or he would lose the plea bargain. Both of Wade's attorneys contradicted his testimony suggesting they induced him to lie.

The State moved, pursuant to S.C.Code Ann. § 24-27-200 (Supp.2000), to revoke Wade's inmate credits for testifying falsely at the PCR hearing. The PCR court denied Wade's petition, but granted the motion to revoke Wade's credits.

Did the PCR court err in recommending forfeiture of Wade's inmate credits under S.C.Code Ann. § 24-27-200 (Supp.2000) for testifying falsely?

Deciding whether the PCR court erred this Court must first address whether § 24-27-200 applies to PCR hearings. We hold it does not.


The relevant portion of the statute provides:

A prisoner shall forfeit all or part of his earned work, education or good conduct credits in an amount to be determined by the Department of Corrections upon recommendation of the court if the court finds that the prisoner has done any of the following in a case pertaining to his incarceration or apprehension filed by him in state or federal court or in an administrative proceeding while incarcerated:
(2) testified falsely or otherwise presented false evidence or information to the court;
The court may make such findings on its own motion, on motion of counsel for the defendant, or on motion of the Attorney General, who is authorized to appear in the proceeding, if he elects, in order to move for the findings in a case in which the State or any public entity or official is a defendant.

S.C.Code Ann. § 24-27-200 (Supp.2000)(emphasis added).

This case presents an issue of first impression. Previously this Court in Al—Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000), mentioned § 24-27-200 twice in dicta.1 This case appears to be the first instance where the Attorney General's office has used the revocation statute.

This Court in Al—Shabazz v. State, supra,

held an inmate may raise inmate credit issues or conditions of imprisonment under the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA") and not through PCR. This Court cited § 24-27-200 both times in discussing an inmate's challenge to credit issues within the APA. See Al Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 381-82,

527 S.E.2d at 756-57. Al Shabazz does not control the disposition of this case.

The cardinal rule of statutory construction is for a court to give effect to the Legislature's intent. Charleston County Sch. Dist. v. State Budget and Control Bd., 313 S.C. 1, 437 S.E.2d 6 (1993). "What a legislature says in the text of a statute is considered the best evidence of the legislative intent or will." Norman J. Singer, Sutherland Statutory Construction § 46.03 at 94 (5th ed.1992). A court must apply the plain meaning of a statute where its language is unambiguous and conveys a clear meaning. Hodges v. Rainey, 341 S.C. 79, 533 S.E.2d 578 (2000).

The statute seemingly includes PCR hearings as cases instituted by an inmate, filed in a state court, relating to his incarceration. See 17 S.C. Jur. § 2 (1993) ("State post-conviction relief is a civil action by which a person convicted of, or sentenced for, a crime, and who is either detained or faces a possibility of detention, institutes a proceeding to challenge a court's conviction or sentence on constitutional grounds."). However, a court must reject a statute's interpretation leading to absurd results not intended by the Legislature. Ray Bell Constr. Co. v. School Dist. of Greenville County, 331 S.C. 19, 501 S.E.2d 725 (1998).

Additionally, courts are not confined to the literal meaning of a statute where the literal import of the words contradicts the real purpose and intent of the lawmakers. Greenville Baseball v. Bearden, 200 S.C. 363, 20 S.E.2d 813 (1942). To obtain the real purpose and intent of the lawmakers a court must not look to the "phraseology of an isolated section or provision, but the language of the statute as a whole considered in the light of its manifest purpose." City of Columbia v. Niagara Fire Ins. Co., 249 S.C. 388, 391, 154 S.E.2d 674, 676 (1967). All provisions of a statute must be given full force and effect. Nucor Steel v. South Carolina Pub. Serv. Com'n, 310 S.C. 539, 426 S.E.2d 319 (1992). Applying § 24-27-200 to PCR actions results in absurd and disparate results not intended by the Legislature.


The Legislature passed the revocation statute within the Inmate Litigation Act ("ILA"). See S.C.Code Ann. § 24-27-100, et seq. (Supp.2000); 1996 Act No. 455. The primary problem with applying § 24-27-200 to PCR actions is it creates disparity between non-incarcerated and incarcerated applicants.2 The chief problem with applying the ILA to PCR is the disparity between non-incarcerated and incarcerated applicants. The ILA applies only to prisoners "defined as a person who has been convicted of a crime and is incarcerated for that crime or is being held in custody for trial or sentencing." S.C.Code Ann. § 24-27-140 (Supp.2000). However, an individual may apply for PCR if they are in custody or can demonstrate prejudice from the persistent results of their conviction. See Jackson v. State, 331 S.C. 486, 489 S.E.2d 915 (1997)

. Applying the ILA to PCR proceedings gives the State the power to punish prisoners for asserting constitutional rights while non-incarcerated applicants can assert those rights without fear of retribution. The State does not proffer any justification for such disparate treatment.

We note this disparity increases when applying other provisions of the ILA to PCR actions. A court under § 24-27-300 may hold a prisoner for contempt of court for a period of not exceeding one year if it finds:

the prisoner has, on three or more prior occasions, while incarcerated, brought in a court of this State a civil action or appeal pertaining to his incarceration or apprehension that was dismissed prior to a hearing on the merits on the grounds that the action or appeal was frivolous, malicious, or meritless.

S.C.Code Ann. § 24-27-300 (Supp.2000).

If the provisions of the ILA applied to PCR actions, a court could hold an incarcerated applicant who previously filed two frivolous lawsuits in contempt upon finding the subsequent PCR application frivolous. The incarcerated applicant may suffer a revocation of inmate credits and serve additional prison time. The non-incarcerated applicant suffers no such infirmities.3

Section 24-27-300 also creates an exception to the three strikes contempt if "the court finds the prisoner was under imminent danger of great bodily injury ... at the time of the filing of the present action." Id. This exception is logical only if one reads the statute as creating an exception for prisoners filing suit challenging dangerous prison living conditions causing an imminent danger to them. A PCR applicant would never fall under this "dangerous conditions" exception since the purpose of a PCR is to challenge a conviction not living conditions. See Al—Shabazz v. State, supra; Tutt v. State, 277 S.C. 525, 290 S.E.2d 414 (1982)

. The placement of the exception suggests the Legislature intended the ILA to apply to non-PCR inmate litigation.

Further, applying the three strikes provision to PCR would change this Court's tradition of giving prisoners access to PCR with minimal burdens. Section 24-27-300 allows the judge to hold the prisoner in contempt and to incarcerate the inmate for an additional year. This measure may not stop a prisoner from utilizing the PCR structure, but it would assuredly chill a prisoner's exercise of a constitutional right. Such a result is contrary to the long tradition of giving prisoners ready access to PCR mechanism4

The presence of a complex fee structure evidences the Legislature's intent to use the ILA to curb the abuses of inmate litigation dealing with prison conditions. One way for the Legislature to curtail inmate litigation dealing with prison conditions is to require inmates to pay filing fees and court costs. However, a PCR applicant is not required to pay a filing fee or meet the complex payment structure of the ILA.5 See Thompson v. State, 325 S.C. 58, 479 S.E.2d 808 (1997)

. If the Legislature intended for the ILA to apply to PCR actions it seems the Legislature would first mandate a filing fee for PCR applications.

The Legislature limits the application of the ILA to civil cases. See S.C.Code Ann. §§ 24-27-100-110, 130, 150, 300 (Supp.2000). While PCR action is considered a "civil case," it is, like its federal equivalent,6 categorized as such to differentiate it from criminal proceedings which are intended to punish thus requiring special constitutional protections. See Ex parte Tom Tong, 108 U.S. 556, 559, 2 S.Ct. 871, 872, 27 L.Ed. 826 (1883) (Habeas corpus review is a civil proceeding because "[p]roceedings to enforce civil rights are civil proceedings, and proceedings for the punishment of crimes are criminal...

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