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SC Court Reverses Columbia Convicted Sex Offender’s House Arrest Sentencing

In a rare move, the SC Court of Appeals reversed a man’s sentencing — after he completed it.

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Last week, the South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed a circuit court judge’s sentencing of a man who pleaded guilty to child exploitation charges in 2016.

Jamie Lee Simpson, of Columbia, was sentenced to two years on house arrest after pleading guilty to six counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor in October 2016. He was sentenced by circuit judge Alison Lee, who has a history of lenient treatment has been previously reported by FITSNews.

On Jan. 8, the court filed its opinion, which reversed Lee’s decision. Since Simpson has already served his house arrest and probation sentences, it’s not clear yet if he will have to serve the mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for the crimes he pleaded guilty to.

During his original sentencing, Simpson advocated for house arrest, “emphasizing his military service and lack of a prior criminal history,” according to court documents. 

He told the court that if he was in prison for more than sixty days, he would lose his military benefits and retirement pay, which would cause “great financial hardship” on his family, according to court documents.

He also argued that he could get the private counseling and treatment he needed if placed on house arrest. The court sided with him in 2016, and ordered “electronic monitoring and mandatory continued counseling.” The court also “prohibited Simpson from having access to a personal computer, and required that Simpson register as a sex offender,” according to court records. 

In 2016, the plea court decided Simpson was “low-risk” for re-offending based on testimony and referred to him as a “non-violent adult offender,” despite the fact that the legislature classifies sexual exploitation as a violent offense.

The court decided in 2016 that “despite the Legislature’s classification of second degree sexual exploitation of a minor as a ‘violent offense,’ it is not [typically] what we consider [a] violent offense.”

After Simpson completed his time served on house arrest in 2018, the court reviewed his sentencing in April 2019, finding that the issue of giving someone guilty of child exploitation house arrest instead of prison time “was capable of repetition.”

Last week, the state court of appeals published its opinion reversing Lee’s decision.

“…We are unable to reconcile that the Legislature would consider the crime of sexual exploitation of a minor in the second degree so serious as to enact a minimum sentence of not less than two years imprisonment—and require that no portion of such minimum sentence may be suspended—with the circuit court’s decision to allow Simpson to serve the minimum two-year sentence in the same home where he participated in the file sharing of child pornography,” the court of appeals wrote. 

This is not the first time Lee has been questioned for her decisions in criminal cases. In 2013, Lee granted bail for Lorenzo Bernard Young after he was charged with several violent crimes. While out on bail, Young murdered a 33-year-old Columbia woman during a robbery. That decision cost Lee a seat on the federal bench, FITSNews reported.

Alexandra Benevento, a Columbia attorney representing Simpson in the case, said Lee’s 2016 sentencing in her client’s case “seemed appropriate” so he could seek treatment while on house arrest. She said last week’s decision was “not the outcome (they) hoped for,” but that they’re “thankful to have clarity on the issue of home detention.”

“This case was an example of a U.S. service veteran with no prior record of wrongdoing being accused of a crime, seeking treatment, faithfully attending that treatment, making positive changes and self-correcting successfully,” Benevento said in a statement to FITSNews. “Mandatory minimums take away a judge’s discretion and instead mandate a standard, uniform minimum sentence to be imposed on all individuals convicted of that crime, regardless of the nature and circumstances of the offense, the person’s personal history and characteristics, or other factors that may be considered in deciding an appropriate sentence.”

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General William Blitch prosecuted the case, according to court documents. The Attorney General’s office declined to comment as both sides of the case have the ability to petition for rehearing, spokesperson Robert Kittle told FITSNews.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].

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