Excessive Sentencing Project - South Carolina

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in South Carolina.

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  • South Carolina allows for the imposition of life without parole for offenders upon their second conviction of certain enumerated felonies. 
State Constitution

Art. I, § 15; Right of bail, excessive bail; cruel or unusual corporal punishment; detention of witnesses:  All persons shall be, before conviction, bailable by sufficient sureties, but bail may be denied to persons charged with capital offenses or offenses punishable by life imprisonment, or with violent offenses defined by the General Assembly, giving due weight to the evidence and to the nature and circumstances of the event. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor shall excessive fines be imposed, nor shall cruel, nor corporal, nor unusual punishment be inflicted, nor shall witnesses be unreasonably detained.

Sentencing Statutes

Two-strikes law: Sentencing courts may impose life without parole sentences for offenders convicted of a “most serious offense” when they have at least one prior conviction for a “most serious offense” or an out-of-state offense that would be classified as such in South Carolina. S.C. Code § 17-25-45(A)(1). Courts may impose a life without parole sentence against those with two prior convictions for “serious” offenses. S.C. Code § 17-25-45(A)(2).  

Case Law

General 

The state supreme court has rejected the contention that South Carolina’s two-strikes law constituted cruel and unusual punishment as applied to an offender sentenced to life without parole for burglary at a motel; the defendant had two prior convictions for armed robbery. State v. White, 349 S.C. 33 (2002).

Proportionality 

The court reviews three factors when assessing proportionality: (1) the gravity of the offense compared to the harshness of the penalty; (2) sentences imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction; and (3) sentences for the same crime in other jurisdictions. State v. Kiser, 288 S.C. 441 (1986).

Although 12-year-old’s culpability level may have been diminished somewhat due to his age at the time he shot and killed his grandparents, his diminished culpability was “more than counterbalanced by the harm (he) caused to his victims.” State v. Pittman, 373 S.C. 527, 564 (2007)(upholding concurrent sentences of 30 years in prison for two murder convictions).

Severe Sentences 

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Court upheld sentence of 20 years in prison for pregnant woman who gave birth to stillborn child due to cocaine use during pregnancy. State v. McKnight, 352 S.C. 635 (2003).