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Old 08-27-2009, 05:20 PM
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Default SC Supreme Court ruling on parole eligibility



August 25, 2009

State rules on convicted murderer Brian Major parole case

By Tim Smith
Capital Bureau
COLUMBIA — State judges and parole officials can't arrange nor interpret multiple sentences in such a way to prohibit a defendant from ever being considered for parole, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in a 3-2 decision Monday.
The ruling came in the case of a convicted murderer, Brian Major, who had been sentenced to life in prison plus five years for possession of a weapon in the commission of a violent crime.
The justices ruled that parole officials had erroneously interpreted the law in denying him a chance at parole.
The sentencing sheet stated “consecutive,” which state parole officials interpreted to mean the weapons sentence would only be served after the life sentence, thus making Major ineligible for parole, according to the court.
He was convicted under an older statute that allows defendants to be paroled after serving 20 years.
The court referred to a previous case on the subject but went further, explaining that it wanted to deal with some unanswered questions.
“Our law is well-established that a sentencing judge does not have the authority to determine parole eligibility through sentencing,” Justice Don Beatty wrote in the majority opinion.
In a previous case involving a defendant sentenced to life plus two other prison terms, the Supreme Court upheld another judge's decision that parole officials could not require the life sentence be served first.
The judge in that case had ordered the sentences to be served consecutively but did not specify an order.
The court also has ruled that multiple life sentences can be considered one sentence for the purposes of parole.
“It follows that if a consecutive life sentence could not nullify parole eligibility on a parolable life sentence, then a five-year consecutive sentence cannot either,” Beatty wrote.
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