SC Supreme Court Clarifies Interlocutory Appellate Procedures

State v. Andrew Looper (No. 2015-001493)

Petitioner was charged with driving under the influence (DUI). At a pretrial hearing before a magistrate, Looper moved to suppress evidence of field sobriety tests and breath analysis, arguing they were the fruits of an unconstitutionally prolonged traffic stop. The magistrate granted Looper’s motion to suppress the evidence and dismissed the DUI charge. The State appealed to the circuit court. The circuit court held the magistrate erred in granting Looper’s motion and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Looper appealed the circuit court’s ruling to the court of appeals.

In South Carolina, there are different standards for when each party can appeal in a criminal case. For the State, an appeal can be taken from an order order granting the suppression of evidence which “significantly impairs the prosecution of a criminal case.” A defendant, on the other hand, can only appeal from a final sentence and conviction. In considering Looper’s appeal, the Court of Appeals analogized the circuit court’s ruling to an order denying a motion to suppress evidence. The court of appeals therefore dismissed Looper’s appeal, finding that he was not “aggrieved” in a legal sense, because he had not been convicted and sentenced

What complicates this issue in the present case is a prior case from 2000, State v. Gregorie, 339 S.C. 2, 3, 528 S.E.2d 77, 78 (2000), in which the court stated that “any aggrieved party may appeal the circuit court’s final judgment.” This language appears to grant appellate review from the circuit court’s reversal in this case, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to clarify this point of appellate procedure.

The court acknowledges that Gregorie language may be read to suggest that being aggrieved is the only requirement to appeal from a circuit court’s order.

We, of course, take no exception to the notion that Petitioner was adversely impacted by the circuit court’s order remanding the case for trial, but he was not aggrieved in a legal sense. Cf. Shields v. Martin Marietta Corp., 303 S.C. 469, 470, 402 S.E.2d 482, 483 (1991) (“Avoidance of trial is not a ‘substantial right’ entitling a party to immediate appeal of an interlocutory order.”)

The court clarifies that the proper standard for whether a defendant can appeal is that the defendant must be  aggrieved by a final judgment.

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