South Carolina’s Protection of Persons and Property Act

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In July 2017, the Court of Appeals in South Carolina affirmed a lower court’s decision rejecting a claim of immunity from prosecution pursuant to the Protection of Persons and Property Act. So, what exactly is the Protection of Persons and Property Act and when does it apply in criminal defense matters?

What is the Protection of Persons and Property Act?

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In 2006, South Carolina’s General Assembly enacted the Protection Act, SC Code §§ 16-11-410 to 450, which basically enacts common law doctrines recognizing a person’s right to defend his person and his home. This act extended the Castle Doctrine to include an occupied vehicle.  It also codified a principal known as “Stand Your Ground”, which essentially holds that there is no duty to retreat when a person is attacked in a place he is lawfully entitled to be, including, but not limited, to his business.
In applicable cases, this statute will grant immunity from prosecution to individuals for actions recognized as being committed in the act of self-defense. The statute’s protection from prosecution may extend to certain cases involving allegations of a variety of charges, including assault and battery, voluntary manslaughter, attempted murder, and murder.

The State v. Preston Ryan Oates

In the matter of the State v. Oates, the appellant was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. He argued that he was immune from prosecution under the Protection of Persons and Property Act because there was evidence that the victim was forcibly trying to remove Oates from his occupied vehicle and that the circuit court’s finding that the conflict had resolved at the time of the shooting was not supported by evidence.
The conflict arose from the deceased parking his vehicle on streets within a subdivision whose HOA laws strictly prohibit parking on streets. Appellant is a tow truck driver hired by the HOA to tow illegally parked vehicles. He observed the victim’s van and proceeded to put a boot on it and prepare to tow it away. The victim and friends came out as the vehicle was being hooked up to the truck and scared the appellant enough that he retreated to his truck and locked the door.
An argument ensued and at one point, the victim ratcheted his gun and said that no one was going to tow his car. From there, the witnesses’ version of events differs,with the victim’s friends saying the victim had put the gun away and there was no more arguing nor any threats of violence. Appellant eventually shoots victim six times, with testimony and nearby video surveillance indicating victim was walking or running away from appellant when the incident happened.
The trial court found that the Protection of Persons and Property Act did not apply to the facts and the appellant was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.
Although the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision and the conviction stands, there were relevant issues raised that make this case important to discuss in regards to how the courts interpret the Protection of Persons and Property Act.

Issues on Appeal

The appellate court noted the pertinent parts of the Act in this particular case fall under §16-11-440, which in certain cases provides a presumption of reasonable fear. Pursuant to § 16-11-440(A), a person is “presumed to have a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury” when the person against whom the deadly force is used happens to be in the middle of forcibly entering, or already has unlawfully and forcibly entered a residence, dwelling, or occupied vehicle; or if the person is attempting to remove, or has already removed another person against his or her will from the dwelling, vehicle, or residence. The individual using the deadly force must know or have reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or act is in the process of occurring, or already has occurred.  
The appellant contended that the victim was attempting to remove him from his vehicle, but other testimony indicated the conflict had resolved and everyone was calm at the time of the shooting.  The court found that Subsection (A) did not apply because the evidence showed that the victim was walking away from the vehicle at the time he was shot.
Subsection C of the same code section states that a person who is not engaged in an illegal activity and who is attacked in a place where he has the legal right to be, including, but not limited to, his place of business, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand their ground, meeting force with force. This includes deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or another person, or to prevent a violent crime as defined by Section 16-1-60.
The appellate court looked at this subsection of the statute and affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that the use of deadly force was not warranted to prevent the appellant’s own death, bodily injury, or the commission of a violent crime. The trial court found that there was no force to be met because the victim was walking away and the appellate court that it did not have authority to second guess the trial court’s evidentiary findings.

Consult with a Greenville Criminal Defense Attorney to Discuss the Protections of Persons and Property Act

Navigating the criminal statutes in South Carolina can be a a difficult matter. It is crucial you have a qualified Greenville criminal defense attorney to help prepare your defense and ensure all legal arguments are raised. If you’ve been charged with a crime that you believe falls under South Carolina’s Protection of Persons and Property Act, the experienced team of lawyers at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. can advise you of your legal rights and obligations. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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