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South Carolina solicitors must alert criminal sentence reductions

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(The Center Square) — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wants state circuit solicitors to give the attorney general at least 10 days’ notice before filing motions to reduce a criminal sentence.

The directive follows the early release of convicted murderer Jeroid Price, who was released from prison on March 15 after serving 19 years of his 35-year sentence for a 2002 murder. On April 26, the South Carolina Supreme Court vacated a now-retired circuit judge’s order freeing Price.

Law enforcement apprehended Price on July 17. In a 3-2 ruling in September, the Supreme Court ruled that “the circuit court did not have the authority to reduce the sentence because the solicitor and the circuit court did not comply with any of the requirements set forth in the applicable statute.”

“While I will continue to advocate for tougher criminal laws and penalties and urge the General Assembly to take prompt action, unfortunately, recent events have revealed that it is not sufficient simply to arrest, convict, and incarcerate criminals, but we must also ensure that they stay in prison,” McMaster, a Republican, wrote in his letter.

The governor also asked Attorney General Alan Wilson to review any such early release motions to ensure compliance with state law.

“I happened to be in the office of the Attorney General when he learned that convicted murderer Price wished to surrender to the AG at his office on the Statehouse grounds,” Wendy Damron, president of the Palmetto Promise Institute, told The Center Square via email. “This did not happen, but it is scary having a convicted killer on the loose. I personally appreciate the efforts of Governor McMaster, [South Carolina Department of Corrections] Director [Bryan] Stirling and AG Wilson to step up safeguards in this matter of life and death.”

According to state officials, the Department of Corrections has identified 26 other potentially similar early release cases. The governor said state officials should review early release orders “to confirm compliance with the applicable law,” adding that “after-the-fact awareness of these incidents alone is not sufficient.”

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