SC House passes bond-reform bill

A bill designed to crack down on offenders who commit violent crimes while out on bond in South Carolina is halfway to the finish line at the governor’s desk.
Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 8:35 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2023 at 8:58 PM EST

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A bill designed to crack down on offenders who commit violent crimes while out on bond in South Carolina is halfway to the finish line at the governor’s desk, with its supporters calling for senators to get it there as quickly as possible.

The House of Representatives gave second reading, essentially passing, to H.3532 in a 92-20 vote Wednesday, with all Republicans and 10 Democrats voting for it.

“Today, the House loudly spoke with an overwhelming majority that we are going to crack down on those who continue to terrorize our citizens, especially when they are out on bond,” Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R – Sumter, said.

Smith and other House Republican leaders and representatives joined sheriffs, solicitors, and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel at the State House after the vote to celebrate passage of the bill, which they say will close the “revolving door” of crime in South Carolina.

“Today, we begin holding those violent, repeat offenders accountable,” Keel said.

Under this bill, people who commit a violent crime, certain weapons offenses, or certain crimes against children while out on bond for another violent offense would automatically have that initial bond revoked.

Then a new bond hearing would have to be held in circuit court within 14 days, and if they are granted bond on that second offense, they or a bail bondsman would have to pay it in full in cash.

If the person is ultimately convicted of that subsequent violent crime and found to have committed it while out on bond, they would have a mandatory, additional five years tacked onto their prison sentence, though that could be served concurrently with their time for the offense itself, at the judge’s discretion.

But some lawmakers argued it would be unfair and potentially unconstitutional to add on that time for someone who was not found guilty of that initial charge because, without it, they would not have been out on bond in the first place.

“What we face with this legislation is taking away time from individuals who very well may be innocent, and that may not bother you as long as it’s not you,” Rep. Ivory Thigpen, D – Richland, said.

Bill supporters repeatedly said during Wednesday’s debate that this additional five-year penalty would be given because the person violated bond, a court order, and that it does not have to do with the first charge.

However, they said the option for a judge to allow the person to serve those five years concurrently with their other time, meaning if the sentence for that conviction was at least five years, they would serve no additional time in reality, was a nod to those concerns about people who were found not guilty of the initial charge.

Other opponents argued this is not an issue with state law that needs to be fixed because the law already provides a remedy for these situations.

They contended if someone commits a violent crime while out on bond, the solicitor can file a motion to revoke bond, but solicitors have to use that option.

“I know everybody wants to go back and be tough on crime, ‘We’re tough on crime.’ But we’re here to be gatekeepers of people’s rights,” Richland County Democratic Rep. Seth Rose, a criminal defense attorney, and former prosecutor said.

The solicitor for Charleston and Berkeley counties said that option is not enough.

“Bond revocations in and of themselves are not getting the results that we need,” Ninth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said.

Rep. Deon Tedder, D – Charleston, introduced a series of amendments related to drug offenses included in the bill: One to remove drug offenses from the list of applicable violent crimes in this legislation, and others to keep people from facing the additional five years in prison if SLED’s Drug Analysis Department did not provide sample results within a certain period of time after the sample was submitted.

He argued people with substance-use disorders should not be punished with more time behind bars but instead should receive help through programs like drug court.

Tedder’s amendments were all voted down.

“Which tells me that we’re not really trying to just go after the bad, violent guys who are running around with guns and getting out on bond with attempted murder and then going to kill somebody after that,” he said.

House Judiciary Chairman Weston Newton, R – Beaufort, noted drug trafficking is among those applicable violent crimes. Earlier this session, the House passed a bill to criminalize trafficking fentanyl, which is currently not on the books in South Carolina.

“It doesn’t seem to make good sense if what we’re doing to stop a revolving door is to carve out trafficking drug crimes that are today identified, and it was not certain drug crimes,” Newton said of Tedder’s amendment. “It was any and all drug crimes that are, by statute today, a number of them defined as violent crimes.”

After a perfunctory third reading in the House on Thursday, the bill will move to the Senate, which is already considering its own bond-reform legislation regarding bail bondsman reform and electronic monitoring.

Gov. Henry McMaster called for the legislature to get a bond-reform bill to his desk during his State of the State address in January, and he repeated that call in a recent interview, indicating his support for the House’s legislation.

“The revolving door for repeat and violent criminals is closing thanks to [House Speaker Murrell Smith] and the S.C. House passing bond reform and tougher penalties for criminals with illegal guns. Thank you!” McMaster tweeted in a statement Wednesday.