Who to contact with a media request
Solicitor’s Office representatives gladly entertain inquiries from the media on a range of criminal-justice topics.
Administrative Chief of Staff Jeff Kidd (843-790-6439, [email protected]) or Community Relations Liaison Erinn McGuire ( 843-790-6453, [email protected]) can help you arrange interviews with the appropriate person, answer many basic questions about our office’s operations and provide access to documents subject to the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
However, no Solicitor’s Office employee, except the Solicitor, is allowed to make pre-trial comments regarding a specific case.
We like answering your questions … but sometimes, we can’t. Here’s why.
The Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office aims to scrupulously follow the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct. Specifically, Rules 3.6 and 3.8 speak, respectively, to pre-trial publicity and the “extra judicial” comments made by prosecutors. As such, we are not ethically allowed to answer many questions posed by reporters, whatever their journalistic merit. We cannot, for example, discuss an accused party’s criminal history or speculate about the impact of a particular piece of evidence. These rules are in place to ensure a defendant’s rights to a fair trial and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Prosecutors’ Do’s and Don’ts of ‘extra-judicial’ comments
We can ethically discuss or reveal *…
- the claim or offense involved and the identity of persons involved, unless otherwise prohibited.
- the scheduling or result of any step in litigation.
- the identity, residence, occupation and family status of the accused.
- the identity of investigating and arresting officers or agencies and the length of the investigation.
We cannot ethically discuss or reveal* …
- certain facts in cases involving juveniles, domestic relations and mental disability proceedings.
- the character, credibility or criminal record of a party, suspect or witness.
- the identity or expected testimony of a witness.
- the possibility of a guilty plea or the existence of a confession in a case that could result in incarceration.
- the performance or results of any exam or test, or the refusal of a person to submit to any exam or test.
- the nature of physical evidence expected to be presented at trial.
- any opinion about the guilt or innocence of a defendant or suspect in a case that could result in incarceration.
- information that the lawyer knows is likely inadmissible as evidence.
*These lists are not exhaustive.
These rules apply not only to the Solicitor, but to all Solicitor’s Office employees, including the communications team.
After a case has been disposed and the accused no longer has a pending matter before our office, we are at greater liberty to comment. In fact, we invite opportunities to do so.
Other Solicitor’s Office polices pertaining to media requests
The Solicitor’s Office does not comment on or acknowledge expungements, defendants’ participation in diversionary programs or any information that state law does not allow us to release.
A reporter has been tracking a defendant’s case since law enforcement made an arrest more than a year ago. One day, while doing a regular check, the reporter discovers the defendant’s case has disappeared from the Public Index. The reporter calls the Solicitor’s Office to find out what happened to the charge.
In some cases, the reason a charge has disappeared is because the defendant has successfully applied to have it expunged from his or her record. For instance, some participants in Pretrial Intervention are eligible to have their offense wiped clean – and by state law, that includes any and all records pertaining to the alleged offense. In accordance with state law, the Solicitor’s Office will not comment on, confirm or acknowledge any details of an expunged case, including the fact that the charge has been expunged.
The Solicitor’s Office also will not disclose:
- Names, case details and other information about cases involving alleged juvenile offenders.
- Information that would tend to identify a victim of sexual assault, child abuse or similar crime against a vulnerable person.
- Information about defendants enrolled in diversionary programs, including acknowledgement that a defendant is or has been enrolled in such a program.
The Solicitor’s Office does not comment on any aspect of a defendant’s criminal history while that defendant has a case pending with our office.
In preparing a story about a defendant’s recent arrest, a reporter obtains a SLED criminal background check made available through the S.C. Press Association. The reporter notices a similar, previous charge against the defendant was dropped and asks the Solicitor’s Office why it was not pursued.
This is a legitimate question for a newsgatherer, but it is one the Solicitor’s Office typically is not ethically able to answer until after the new case has been disposed. That’s because prosecutors are specifically prohibited from discussing a defendant’s criminal background when that defendant has a matter still pending with the prosecutor’s office.
Generally speaking, however, there are several reasons a charge is dropped or downgraded:
- A case’s facts do not fit the charge.
- A charge cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
- A defendant did not, in fact, commit the crime.
According to the American Bar Association’s Standard 3-3.9, “Discretion in the Charging Decision,” a prosecutor should neither make a charge nor permit the continued pendency of a criminal charge when he or she knows that the charges are not supported by probable cause. Neither should a prosecutor allow a charge to persist if there is a lack of admissible evidence to support a conviction.
The Solicitor’s Office does not comment on on-going investigations and in some instances will not acknowledge an investigation is taking place.
Scenario A: An officer from a law-enforcement agency within the Fourteenth Circuit fires his service weapon at a subject while answering a call for service. A reporter calls the Solicitor’s Office to find out if the officer will be charged with a crime.
In the 14th Circuit, whenever an officer is involved in a shooting, the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division is called in to handle the investigation. That agency’s investigators will keep the Solicitor’s Office apprised of its findings. When both SLED and the Solicitor’s Office are satisfied that an officer-involved shooting has been thoroughly investigated, the Solicitor’s Office will make a legal decision regarding what charge(s), if any, is appropriate given the evidence. Until that decision is made, the Solicitor’s Office will not comment on the investigation.
This procedure is typically followed any time SLED investigates a local matter, as when a law-enforcement agency would face a conflict of interest were it to investigate allegations against one of its own officers.
A reporter plans a story detailing suspicions that a member of a local council has overstepped his authority in apparent violation of state law. The reporter asks if the Solicitor’s Office will investigate the allegation and what charges might be brought.
Implicit in this inquiry are at least two incorrect assumptions – first, that the Solicitor’s Office typically handles initial investigations and, second, that every violation of state law is a criminal act.
To the contrary, although the Solicitor’s Office often assists law-enforcement in its investigations and will offer legal advice on that agency’s charging decisions, the office’s primary role is to prosecute charges, not to bring them. Also, some provisions of our state code are administrative in nature, with remedies that do not include criminal penalties or, in some instances, any specific remedy at all.
This makes comment on such investigations not only difficult but potentially improper. For instance, an inquiry that begins as a criminal investigation could wind up instead before the S.C. Ethics Commission, where all complaints and investigations are to be kept confidential until and unless probable cause is established.
So in the scenario described above, the Solicitor’s Office would neither comment on, nor acknowledge an investigation.