The Supreme Court of South Carolina
RE: Use of Remote Communication Technology to Conduct Guilty Pleas
Appellate Case No. 2020-000447
By amended order dated September 21, 2021, this Court issued permanent guidance on the use of remote communication technology (RCT) to conduct trial court proceedings, including guilty pleas, in accordance with Rule 612 of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules. RE: Use of Remote Communication Technology by the Trial Courts (As Amended September 21, 2021).1 Section (d)(9)(A) of this order provides that, except in cases where a defendant is in pretrial confinement or other incarceration, the judge, the defendant, any counsel for the defendant, and the prosecutor must be physically present in the courtroom during a guilty plea.
However, "[i]f the defendant is in pretrial confinement or other incarceration, the judge may, with the consent of the parties, conduct a guilty plea in whole or part using RCT." Id. at Section (d)(9)(B). In those cases, any or all of the participants, including the judge, the defendant and/or any counsel may appear by RCT. This provision is intended to provide flexibility to conduct guilty pleas remotely in appropriate cases regardless of whether an emergency exists.
Based on the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in South Carolina, I find it necessary to issue this order permitting the expanded use of RCT in guilty pleas. See Section (c)(7), RE: Use of Remote Communication Technology by the Trial Courts (As Amended September 21, 2021); see also Section (b), RE: Operation of the Trial Courts During the Coronavirus Emergency (As Amended November 23, 2021) (setting forth the authority of the Chief Justice to impose COVID-19 mitigation measures). Effective immediately, a guilty plea may be conducted using RCT regardless of whether the defendant is incarcerated under the following conditions.
If the defendant will participate by RCT, the trial court must make a determination that the defendant is knowingly and intelligently waiving the right to be physically present for the plea. If the defendant's counsel will participate by remote communication technology, the trial court must determine that the defendant is knowingly and intelligently waiving any right to have counsel physically present, and the court must ensure the defendant has the ability to consult privately with counsel during the plea proceeding as may be necessary.
This order is effective nunc pro tunc January 4, 2022, and remains in effect unless amended or rescinded by the Chief Justice.
s/Donald W. Beatty
Donald W. Beatty
Chief Justice of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
January 24, 2022
1 This order is available at: https://www.sccourts.org/whatsnew/displaywhatsnew.cfm?indexID=2628.