The Supreme Court of South Carolina
RE: Aiken County Mental Health Court
I FIND that the South Carolina legislature, recognizing the continuing need for and benefits of a Mental Health Court (MHC) program to divert mentally ill persons from jails, enacted the MHC Program Act on June 1, 2015. The Act establishes a MHC Program, to be administered by circuit solicitors, and provides that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina shall appoint all MHC judges operating pursuant to the Act.
I FURTHER FIND that pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 14-31-40 (2017), the Solicitor for the Second Judicial Circuit has moved for an order providing for the essential administrative framework for the operations of the Aiken County MHC Program under the 2015 Act and for the appointment of a judge to preside over the court.
I FURTHER FIND that the misdemeanor cases and non-violent felony cases involving qualified mentally ill defendants in Aiken County would benefit from participation in a MHC before a specially trained judge, without compromising the safety of the public.
THEREFORE, pursuant to Article V, Section 4, of the S.C. Constitution and S.C. Code Ann. § 14-31-40,
IT IS ORDERED that the existing MHC Program shall operate within Aiken County in the office of the Second Circuit Solicitor pursuant to this Order.
Any eligible defendant, who is suffering from mental illness, may be transferred into the MHC upon the approval of the Second Circuit Solicitor. The Second Circuit Solicitor shall determine eligibility. Proper notice shall be given to the victim as required by S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-1525 (2015). Policy and procedures for referrals, applications and admission to the MHC shall be developed by the Second Circuit Solicitor's Office.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that each defendant shall sign a release to apply to the MHC, which is a voluntary program. The defendant's release shall authorize the Solicitor's office, presiding judges for the MHC, and all members of the MHC staff to access all necessary information including, but not limited to, criminal history, mental health history, and other relevant documents.
Upon acceptance into the MHC, the defendant shall enter a plea of guilty pursuant to the terms negotiated with the Solicitor's office. Upon acceptance of the plea by the presiding circuit judge of the Court of General Sessions, sentencing shall be held in abeyance until the circuit judge receives a report on the defendant's successful completion of or termination from the MHC.
The defendant shall be subject to intensive case management, including medical evaluations, medication compliance, psychotherapy, supervised living, substance abuse counseling, and other related social services as determined by the MHC team.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Honorable Tonya Marchant, Judge of Probate for Aiken County, is assigned to preside over court proceedings of the Aiken County MHC. In her absence, Kim R. Griffin, Associate Judge of Probate for Aiken County or any other duly appointed Associate Judge of Probate for Aiken County may preside. Pursuant to this assignment, Judge Marchant, Judge Griffin, or any other judge authorized or appointed pursuant to this Order shall be responsible for coordinating the role of the judiciary to preside over the courtroom proceedings. To perform their judicial duties, the judges may collaborate with the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, Second Circuit Solicitor's Office, Second Circuit Public Defender's Office, Aiken County General Sessions Court, Aiken County Sheriff's Office, agencies involved in vocational rehabilitation, municipal police departments in Aiken County, private mental health care providers, and any other Aiken County agencies which may serve the Aiken County MHC. Further, Judge Marchant, Judge Griffin, or any other judge authorized or appointed pursuant to this Order shall be responsible for presiding over the courtroom proceedings involving the MHC, the imposition of sanctions, and any termination from the program for non-compliance with its terms and conditions.
Upon successful completion of the MHC, the presiding judge shall refer the case back to General Sessions court for resolution. The State shall join the defense in moving to withdraw the plea. The State shall enter a nolle pros on the charge(s), and the case shall remain dismissed for a six (6) month period during which the defendant shall participate in the aftercare program developed by the MHC team. Failure to comply with this program may result in restoration of the charges and prosecution. Upon successful completion of the aftercare program, the Solicitor shall institute expungement proceedings for the charge at no cost to the defendant.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that should the defendant fail to comply with the terms of the MHC Program and be terminated, the defendant shall be returned to the Court of General Sessions to be sentenced to the previously agreed-upon negotiated sentence. The Solicitor may, in his or her discretion, agree to a reduction in the negotiated sentence if he or she believes it to be in the interests of justice.
This Order remains in effect unless amended or rescinded by subsequent order of the Chief Justice.
s/Donald W. Beatty
Donald W. Beatty
Chief Justice of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
August 28, 2023