SC

South Carolina Solicitor Responds To Criticism

Byron Gipson pushes back …

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South Carolina fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson is defending his office’s handling of a recent high-profile drug prosecution – as well as his team’s overall record of putting violent criminals behind bars.

Gipson addressed recent comments made by Richland County sheriff Leon Lott – who spoke with this news outlet earlier this month about the need for prosecutors in South Carolina to be held accountable for their role in the Palmetto State’s notoriously lenient criminal justice system. Lott did not mention Gipson by name, but the veteran law enforcement leader criticized the solicitor’s office for its handling of the case of Robert Marks – a thrice-convicted, violent drug trafficker who appears to have received special treatment from former S.C. circuit court judge (and current U.S. fourth circuit judge) DeAndrea Benjamin.

Lott also made it clear (when asked) that he and Gipson have “a different conception of criminal justice.”

“That’s accurate,” Lott said. “I believe in accountability. Reducing sentences and dismissing cases? That’s not part of it.”

As this news outlet reported earlier this month, Marks has been on the streets for several years due to a controversial “pre-sentencing investigation” (PSI) request made by powerful lawyer-legislator Todd Rutherford in connection with his case.

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Rutherford’s request was granted by judge Benjamin in December 2020 – yet as of this writing no hearing has taken place on the sentencing. Also worth noting? It took more than four years from Marks’ 2016 arrest for him to be brought to trial.

Lott referred to Marks’ case as a “miscarriage of justice.”

“There’s no reason for him to be on the streets,” the sheriff said. “That’s the crack in our criminal justice system. We’re not holding people accountable.  So there’s no reason for them not to continue committing crimes.” 

Gipson pushed back on the Marks case, saying PSI is a tool frequently used by the S.C. Department of Probation Parole and Pardon Services (SCDPPPS) to shed light on defendants’ histories.

“This process allows (SCDPPPS) to do a deeper dive into a defendant’s background, then offer sentencing recommendations to the presiding judge,” Gipson said. “In the vast majority of cases, sentencing occurs contemporaneously with the plea or trial, however PSIs are requested and conducted from time-to-time.”

(Click to View)

Robert Marks (Lexington County Detention Center)

As for the ongoing delay in getting Marks back before a judge to actually be sentenced (SCDPPPS finished the pre-sentencing report in early 2021), Gipson said his office “has been actively working to schedule this matter for quite some time.”

A review of court records confirmed as much …

One item of interest gleaned from those records, though? On one of the dates Rutherford declined to make himself available to hear Marks’ plea, he was attending a meeting of the S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC) down the road from the Richland County courthouse. A clique of influential lawyer-legislators, the SCJMSC decides which judicial candidates get to stand for legislative election each year.

In other words, Rutherford couldn’t be bothered to appear for Marks’ sentencing hearing because he was too busy appointing more judges to the bench who will do his bidding in future cases.

South Carolina is one of only two states in America in which the legislature chooses judges – a system which promotes sweetheart plea dealsanemic sentencesridiculous bonds, the perpetual abuse of victims and “mandatory minimum” sentences that wound up being not-so-mandatory.

Speaking generally about Lott’s criticisms – and the criticisms of others about his office – Gipson disputed the characterizations, saying “we’re holding people accountable every day.”

He pointed to nearly two dozen recent trials and dozens of recent pleadings – including several dozen cases in which defendants were sentenced to more than ten years in prison. One of the recent trials our news outlet reported on just last month.

“Every case we’ve won is an example of accountability,” Gipson said.  “Every one of those pleas is an example of accountability.  Unfortunately his definition of accountability seems to mean obtaining the result that he believes is proper.  That’s not always the way it works, though. We are very tough on violent crime. We are very tough on gun violence —  the proof is in the pudding.”

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RELATED | LEON LOTT: PROSECUTORS NEED TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE

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“There is a vast chasm between probable cause – the standard to make an arrest – and beyond a reasonable doubt, the legal standard required for a jury to convict,” Gipson continued.

He cited numerous factors which make the chasm even wider – including the reticence of many victims and witnesses to testify in cases in which they believe their lives could be in danger.

As for Lott’s suggestion that citizens “go to 1701 Main Street and sit in the courtroom on the days they are taking pleas,” Gipson said his office would welcome the scrutiny.

“Yeah, come down,” he said. “Come on down. And not just for five minutes or six minutes, Sit through a trial to see our office in action.  Observe the criminal justice system in action, then you will have the opportunity to judge accountability with your own eyes.”

Regarding Lott’s assertion that his deputies were “the ones who are with the victims – the ones who see the victims,” Gipson said his office “does that every day.”

“Our victims advocates meet with victims and their loved ones daily,” he said. “They assist victims as they seek restitution, as they seek counseling, through trial preparation and they are present during the entire trial as well. We are present from the moment the case is transferred to our office through resolution — trial, plea or otherwise. We wear their elation and their frustration. We are a part of their lives through the resolution of the case with our office.”

(Click to View)

(Via: Provided)

“At the end of the day we’re on the same team,” he said. “We want to make Richland County a safer place, a better place. And we’re working hard every day to do that. It is around-the-clock work. When arrests happen at 2:00 – 3:00 a.m. in the morning, we get those calls as well.  Law enforcement calls us on these cases to request advice as to whether probable cause exists too.”

Gipson said upticks in crime have strained law enforcement, prosecutorial and judicial resources, although he praised state lawmakers for “aggressively addressing” recruitment and retention.

“They have given us money for recruitment and retention and that’s helping us to hire new assistant solicitors and raise the salaries of our veteran prosecutors,” Gipson said. “That’s major for us – and we’re very thankful.”

Gipson also credited lawmakers for funding a statewide case management system that he said would “help us with the organization of cases – tracking offenders across counties, and sharing info.”

“It will help us streamline our preparation and be more deliberate in our prosecutorial decisions,” he said.

As for fixing the broken system of judicial selection, Gipson did not endorse any specific reform proposal – although he rejected the idea of popularly electing judges.

“Each branch needs to have a say-so,” he said. “I don’t believe there needs to be a popular election, but there’s a sweet spot here that we have to find. Any reform needs to be based on the principles our country was founded on – the checks and balances and separation of powers between the branches of government.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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8 comments

J Monday Top fan August 18, 2023 at 7:51 am

Just an opinion from an outsider looking in-SC must get the legislature out of the judicial branch. It is absurd and a huge stumbling block to justice in your state.

Reply
SubZeroIQ August 18, 2023 at 9:20 pm

Byron Gipson will not go there; but I will, come what may.
Why is no one holding Leon Lott accountable for his siren-happy deputies and their bad driving which killed at least one Sumter innocent man?
Why is no one holding Leon Lott accountable for the very poor training of his deputies and for his refusal to equipt their street cars with metal detectors to collect shell casings from shooting scenes while he spends lavishly to promote himself, including on this website?
Why is no one holding Leon Lott accountable for inciting riots and stabbings at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center (“ASGDC”) as his secret evil plan to get the gangs to kill each other inside ASGDC because Leon Lott was too lazy and/or too dumb to control the gang problem on the streets?
Why is Leon Lott himself out on the streets every day when he ACTIVELY trains his deputy to lie under oath, that is commit the CRIME of perjury?
Why is Corey/Cory Lamont Curry out on the streets after being PHOTOGRAPHED in the act of loudly threatening to rape Dr. Marie Faltas?
Why was that Curry allowed to continue his drug activities from as early as 2000 (when he was convicted of PWID-crack cocaine) to at least as late as 2016 (when he was caught with over a kilo of marijuana)?
It is not because black judges are too lenient on black criminal defendants. The opposite is true. Black judges practice what I call black-on-black sentencing, which, in my opinion free from false modesty, is a white-collar form of black-on-black crime. The denial of equal protection of the laws, the harsher sentencing of a group to pander to a more powerful group, is perjury of the judicial oath of office to treat all similarly-situated parties alike.
Leon Lott enjoys free reign because he hires the sons of white judges and does favors for other judges who have no children for Lott to hire.
As far as I know, U.S. Circuit Judge Marvin Quattlebaum’s son and Dentsville Magistrate Newsom’s son are deputies of Leon Lotts; but those jurists and others do not (of their own initiative) disclose those facts or recuse themselves when matters involving Lott come before them.
But it is not only white federal judges who do not disclose possible conflicts or received favors. And no, I am not talking about Clarence Thomas or Sonia Sotomayor or Samuel Alito.
I am talking about the much vaunted J. Michelle Childs, who, when on state circuit court, sat on at least one residential landlord-tenant case and made an atrocious pro-landlord ruling WITHOUT disclosing that she herself owned several residential rental properties at the time.
How many tenants did Leon Lott brutally evict for Landlady Childs and her mother, something Thomas?
After that, J. Michelle Childs had the cold-blooded hypocrisy to go and speak to Duke Law School’s May 2022 commencement and praise the graduating students for having fought for “the wrongly convicted and the unjustly evicted” without saying that she herself got people wrongly convicted and unjustly evicted, with Leon Lott’s squad probably undertaking the evictions.
What other important eviction did Leon Lott’s squad carry out as a favor to ANOTHER federal judge’s second wife’s BFF?
One that involves another white collar crime. Stay, God willing, tuned.

Reply
Yo Momma Top fan August 18, 2023 at 11:18 pm

Are you speaking of Mr. Harper being the Sumter Co man ? That was a Sumter Co Deputy, not Richland. That would be Mr. Dennis who needs to be accountable, for once. The remaining things, I don’t know much of.

Reply
SubZeroIQ August 22, 2023 at 10:49 am

I was speaking of Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy Mickens whose service vehicle struck and killed a Sumter County man.
Police officers are notorious for bad driving and being siren-happy even when they are not going to real emergencies, sometimes even just to lunch or to meet a colleague for gossip.
Yes, power corrupts; and it corrupts even more when supposed crime fighters commit crimes themselves in the name of fighting crime. This is when the rest of us are most at risk.
Thanks for the attention and God bless.

Reply
Yo Momma Top fan August 18, 2023 at 11:19 pm

Most of South Carolina officials in authority positions are as corrupt as they come. Good luck getting to the “bottom” of it. Got to love that “old money”.

Reply
SubZeroIQ August 22, 2023 at 10:51 am

Yes, power is most likely to corrupt when supposed crime fighters commit crimes themselves in the name of fighting crime.
That is when the rest of us are most at risk.
Thanks for the attention and God bless.

Reply
SubZeroIQ August 22, 2023 at 10:28 am

This interruption to the line of this post is relevant to FITS’ rabid push for mandatory minimums of atrocious lengths but no proportionality or benefit to society.
I suspect FITS is somehow paid or sponsored by the victims’ advocate or the private prisons industry that is encroaching on South Carolina as in other sates unless the U.S. Supreme Court, God willing, puts some brakes on it.
Remember the Cash-for-Kids scandal of Pennsylvania Judge Ciavarella?
For who else can possibly benefit from putting a 17-year old in for 15 years for burglarly to steal ONE video game?
Mitchell Logan Hinson is now 30 and apparently has no family support and no skills he acquired in his 15 x 0.85 minus pre-trial time = 12.75 years.
His story, which I looked up because the Court of Appeals’ decision on his case came out last week, moved me for two reasons.
First. as a 17 year-old he was required to make a choice of taking a plea or going to trial to face a mandatory minimum, which he got.
Second, the assistant solicitor who tried Hinson later quit, went into private practice, but was later suspended for a year for taking fees and not doing the promised work for clients.
Again, the current system of HUGE mandatory minimums makes even the prosecutors (and possibly judges) engaged in enforcing them miserable; and they please only the extremists who think the solution to every problem is to throw prisons or deportations at it.
But the young man is to be, God willing, released BEFORE there is time to reform the sentencing codes. Can someone help him start a clean after-prison life?
God bless.

Reply
SubZeroIQ August 23, 2023 at 8:03 am

I just posted this on a televised statement of Leon Lott’s. It is too good to not share here. So, here it is:
Okay, Leon Lott, what were YOUR deputy AND HIS WIFE doing in a gang-related house? And off-duty hours at that. And why did they go there in a marked service vehicle? If they were visiting family or friends who just HAPPEN to be gang-related, the least your deputy and his wife could have done is use their personal vehicle.
While I pray for every injured person’s speedy recovery, a plausible alternate scenario comes to mind: YOUR deputy and his wife sided with one gang and were blatant about it to the point of going to that house in a marked service vehicle to signal that house was under YOUR wing. The rival gang shot your deputy and his wife on purpose to send a message that protection from Leon Lott is no protection at all.
Richland County needs to be protected from YOUR manipulations, not to be protected BY you. The gangs problem flourished during, and because of, YOUR tenure.
So, stop playing the helpless victim! YOU are victimizing us with your hypocritical incompetence as much as the gangs are victimizing the entire community with their brazenness.
Remember? Your much vaunted apprentice, Randy Scott, who rose to Columbia Police Chief, was himself arrested for drug use.

Reply

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