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South Carolina S.C. Refuses to Order Defendant Maimed from Jail to Psych Hospital

by Lonnie Burton

On November 16, 2016, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed a lower court order involuntarily committing a defendant who was found incompetent to stand trial to a psychiatric hospital. The state high court ruled that the applicable law did not authorize the circuit court to issue such an order, requiring the defendant to remain in jail.

Rocky Linkhorn was arrested and charged with several sex offenses against children. The trial court found Linkhorn "incompetent to stand trial and unlikely to become fit in the foreseeable future." Thereafter, the circuit court ordered the solicitor to initiate proceedings to involuntarily commit Linkhorn to a mental health hospital with the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN). After a hearing, the circuit court, over DDSN's objections, ordered them to take custody of Linkhorn and prohibited DDSN from refusing involuntary commitment of similarly situated individuals. DDSN appealed, and the South Carolina Supreme Court certified the appeal and took the case.

The issue on appeal was Linkhorn's age at the time his disability manifested itself. Molar South Carolina law, a person may only be involuntarily committed if that person suffers an "intellectual disability than manifested itself prior to the person's twenty-second birthday." S.C. Code Ann. § 44-20-30(15) (Supp. 2015). The court found the language plain and unambiguous, and that Linkhorn did not fit the definition because he was not diagnosed until the age of 23.

However, another section of the law states that no person who is mentally ill shall be confined in a jail. S.C. Code Ann. § 44-23-220 (Supp. 2015). But the court pointed out that Linkhorn "overlooks the Language of the law that states that no person with a mental disability shall be confined in jail 'unless there is a criminal charge pending against him.'" S.C. Code Ann. § 44-20-450(G) (Supp. 2015).

Finally, the high court acknowledged that while the law may need sane tweaking, "it is not the court's place to change the meaning of a clear and unambiguous statute. ... Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the circuit court."

See: Ex Parte: South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, In re: State of South Carolina v. Linkhorn, No. 2013-002208, Opinion No. 27684 (S. Ct. SC), November 16, 2016.

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Related legal case

Ex Parte: South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, In re: State of South Carolina v. Linkhorn