A South Carolina circuit court judge has rebuked the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) over its September 2019 arrest of a farmer in Harleyville, S.C. In a ruling issued last month in Dorchester county, circuit court judge William H. Seals upheld an injunction against SLED and the S.C. Department of Agriculture (SCDA) stemming from the arrest of 38-year-old John Trenton Pendarvis – who was charged with violations of the Palmetto State’s new hemp farming act.
According to Seals order, “the dispute at the heart of this issue is one of due process.” And according to him, Pendarvis’ right to due process was indeed violated in this case.
To recap: Pendarvis was arrested by SLED for a “mapping error” related to his hemp crops – and as a result ten acres of hemp valued at approximately $12 million was mowed down. SCDA said it reported Pendarvis to SLED in accordance with the terms of Act 37 of 2017 – which legalized industrial hemp on a limited basis in the Palmetto State. Pendarvis claimed he was in the process of addressing SCDA’s concerns when he was arrested and his crop destroyed.
Worth noting? Pendarvis signed a participation agreement (.pdf) with SCDA in May of 2019 in which he specifically consented to “the forfeiture or destruction, without compensation, of hemp material” which was planted illegally. That consent was noted by Seals, however his ruling asserted that “unlike purely contractual rights, constitutional rights cannot be extinguished or waived absent express agreement.”
“Nowhere in the participation agreement does it expressly state that licensees waive their rights to due process and judicial reviews,” he noted.
Seals further argued that state lawmakers – including senator Brad Hutto (who is representing Pendarvis in this case) – did not intend for such draconian remedies to be employed in the event farmers ran afoul of the new law.
“The (hemp) act specifically contemplates these types of allegations occurring and not subjecting participants to confiscation and forfeiture of their crops (emphasis original),” he wrote. “The South Carolina General Assembly specifically provides for licensees to be able to conduct ‘corrective action plans.’”
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(Via: Getty Images)
After addressing these plans, Seals concludes “it certainly appears to the Court that the General Assembly did not want to harshly punish South Carolinians who ran afoul of this new law by mistake, and they recognized that the specific allegations being made against (Pendarvis) could be mistakes for which participants should be allowed opportunities to correct.”
According to Seals, Pendarvis “would be successful” in challenging his due process claim – a conclusion with which we concur. Having said, that we fully expect SLED to argue the participation agreement Pendarvis signed with SCDA constitutes the very sort of “express consent” referenced in the judge’s order.
A spokesperson for SLED declined to comment on the case, though, saying it would be “inappropriate to discuss pending litigation.” We fully expect the agency to appeal the ruling, though, setting up a high-level judicial showdown.
This year more than 100 farmers are growing hemp on 3,300 acres – although South Carolina lags well behind the rest of the southeast in the cultivation of this cash crop.
There have also been issues with the quality of the product …
Nonetheless, this news outlet has consistently supported the establishment and expansion of hemp farming in the Palmetto State as “an important cash crop,” one with “a diverse array of commercial applications.”
Easy to plant and requiring little water, hemp is good for the soil and provides an above-average return to the farmer. In fact, our only criticism as it relates to hemp farming in South Carolina is that Palmetto State lawmakers waited too long to implement it – and are rolling it out on a far too limited basis.
Obviously we will keep a close eye on this case as it advances … including any appeal of Seals’ order by SLED and SCDA.
WEB EXTRA: HEMP ARREST RULING
(Via: S.C. Twelfth Judicial Circuit)
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