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South Carolina Court Finds DOC Erred in Treating Cases as No-Parole Offenses

On November 12, 2015, the South Carolina Court of Appeals held the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) had erred in interpreting a statute as requiring prisoners with a second conviction for conspiracy to manufacture or intent to distribute methamphetamine to serve 85% of their sentences if they were denied the first time they became eligible for parole.

Michael Heath Bolin pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, second offense, and conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, second offense (the “two charges”). After Bolin began serving his sentences, the DOC informed him that he would be eligible for parole on the two charges, but if parole was denied when he first became eligible the offenses would then be treated as non-paroleable and he would have to serve a minimum 85% of his sentence before becoming eligible for early release, discharge or community supervision.

Bolin unsuccessfully grieved the issue, then appealed the grievance denial to an administrative law judge who upheld the DOC’s interpretation. With the help of attorney Trent Neuell Pruett, he appealed the administrative law judge’s decision to the Court of Appeals.

The appellate court held that prior to June 2, 2010, the two charges, both Class A felonies, were considered no-parole offenses. However, the Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Bill enacted on June 2, 2010 specifically amended S.C. Code § 44-53-375(B) to state “notwithstanding any other provision of the law,” persons convicted of certain charges for the first or second time, including the two meth-related charges, are “eligible for parole, supervised release, furlough, community supervision, work release, work credits, education credits, and good conduct credits.” S.C. Code §§ 44-53-375(A) and 44-53-370 were amended with similar language.

The Court of Appeals noted that the DOC’s interpretation of the interplay between the amendments and the no-parole statute – that Bolin was both eligible for parole and required to serve 85% of his sentence – was “illogical and inconsistent with the legislative intent” of the statutory amendments. The Court held the “notwithstanding any other provision of the law” language expressed the legislature’s intent to repeal the no-parole statute, § 24-1.3-4.00, to the extent that it conflicted with the amendments to §§ 44-53-370 and 44-53-375. Therefore, the no-parole statute did not apply to the two charges and Bolin remained eligible for parole.

The decision of the administrative law judge was reversed. The appellate ruling was subsequently withdrawn, and the Court of Appeals entered a substituted opinion on February 24, 2016 that reached the same conclusion. See: Bolin v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 415 S.C. 276 (S.C. Ct. App. 2016). 

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