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24854 - Johnson, et al. v. Collins Entertainment Co., Inc., et al.

Davis Adv. Sh. No. XX
S.E. 2d


THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA

In The Supreme Court

In the Interest of

Vincent J., a minor

under the age of

seventeen, Appellant.

Appeal From Orangeburg County

Alvin C. Biggs, Family Court Judge

Opinion No. 24854

Heard September 22, 1998 - Filed November 16, 1998

AFFIRMED

Assistant Appellate Defender Tara S. Taggart, of

the South Carolina Office of Appellate Defense, of

Columbia, for appellant.

Attorney General Charles M. Condon, Chief Deputy

Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant

Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott,

Assistant Attorney General G. Robert Deloach, III,

all of Columbia; and Solicitor Walter L. Bailey, Jr.,

of Summerville, for respondent.





BURNETT, A.J.: This is an appeal from a sentence imposed

by a family court judge in a juvenile criminal contempt proceeding. We

affirm.





FACTS





The appellant, Vincent J., pled guilty to two counts of

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In the Interest of Vincent J.





malicious injury to personal property and was sentenced to probation with

a condition of alternative placement. Appellant was informed by the judge

that he could be held in contempt of court if he violated the conditions of

his probation.





On December 15, 1997, a contempt hearing was held and

appellant pled guilty to violating certain provisions of the previous

sentencing order, including being terminated from the New Directions

program (alternative placement). The judge ordered appellant committed

to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) for 180 days, suspended upon

the service of 178 days.





Appellant filed a motion to reconsider the order of commitment

based on the alleged illegality of sentencing a juvenile to more than a

ninety day determinate sentence. In an order issued on January 6, 1998,

the judge denied this motion finding the family court has the inherent

power to imprison a juvenile criminal contemnor for a period of 180 days.





On March 4, 1998, appellant sought supersedeas from this

Court. Chief Judge Howell, of the Court of Appeals, granted supersedeas

and remanded the matter to the family court for reimposition of conditions

of probation. On March 16, 1998, the family court sentenced appellant

to an additional ninety days of DJJ placement and an additional twenty-four

months of probation.1





ISSUE





Does S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-7810(B) (Supp. 1997) prevent a

family court judge from committing a juvenile criminal

contemnor to a determinate sentence of more than ninety days?




1Although appellant has served the confinement part of his sentence,

this case is not moot because this is a situation that is capable of

repetition yet evading review. Byrd v. Irmo High School, 321 S.C. 426,

468 S.E.2d 861 (1996); In the Interest of Darlene C., 278 S.C. 664, 301

S.E.2d 136 (1983).

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In the Interest of Vincent J.





DISCUSSION





Appellant claims § 20-7-7810(B)2prevents the family court from

enforcing its orders by sentencing a juvenile contemnor to commitment to

the custody of DJJ for a determinate sentence of more than ninety days.

We disagree.





The primary function of the Court in interpreting a statute is

to ascertain the intention of the legislature. Wright v. Colleton County

School District 301 S.C. 262, 391 S.E.2d 564 (1990). Under the

plain meaning rule, it is not the Court's place to change the meaning of a clear

and unambiguous statute. See Paschal v. State Election Comm'n, 317 S.C.

434, 454 S.E.2d 890 (1995) (if a statute's language is plain and

unambiguous, and conveys a clear and definite meaning, the rules of

statutory interpretation are not needed and the Court has no right to

impose another meaning); Gilstrap v. South Carolina Budget and Control

Bd., 310 S.C. 210, 423 S.E.2d 101 (1992) (in construing a statute, the

Court must give clear and unambiguous terms their plain and ordinary

meaning without resorting to subtle or forced construction to limit or

expand the statute's operation).





Prior to July 1, 1996, the family court could sentence a

juvenile in the following manner:



All commitments to the custody of the Department of Juvenile

Justice for delinquency as opposed to the conviction of a

specific crime may be made only for the reasons and in the

manner prescribed . . ., with evaluations made and proceedings

conducted only by the judges authorized to order commitments

in this section. When a child is committed to the custody of

the department under the proceedings, commitments must be




2 Appellant attempts to classify himself as a status offender because

S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-7810(F) (Supp. 1997) expressly restricts a family

court's authority to sanction a status offender contemnor. A family court

cannot commit this type of contemnor to more than 90 days of

confinement. Id. A status offender is a juvenile who commits an offense

that would not be a crime if committed by an adult. See S.C. Code Ann. §

20-7-30(6) (1976). However, since appellant was previously adjudicated a

delinquent and not a status offender, § 20-7-7810(F) does not apply.



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In the Interest of Vincent J.





for an indeterminate sentence, not extending beyond the

twenty-first birthday of the child unless sooner released by the

department.



Act No. 83, § 20, 1995 S.C. Acts 569, amending S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-

2170(D) (1985) (emphasis added).





This restriction on commitment did not apply to contempt

proceedings because the provision related only to initial delinquency

proceedings. Thus, the family court's inherent power to hold a juvenile in

criminal contempt and to sanction the contemnor by committing him to

the custody of DJJ for a determinate period of 180 days was not restricted

by this statutory provision.





On July 1, 1996, § 20-7-2170(D) was repealed and recodified as

§ 20-7-7810(B) and amended to read as follows:



All commitments to the custody of the Department of Juvenile

Justice for delinquency as opposed to the conviction of a

specific crime may be made only for the reasons and in the

manner prescribed . . ., with evaluations made and proceedings

conducted only by the judges authorized to order commitments

in this section. When a child is committed to the custody of

the department, commitment must be for an indeterminate

sentence not extending beyond the twenty-first birthday

of the child unless sooner released by the department, or for a

determinate commitment sentence not to exceed ninety days.



S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-7810(B) (Supp. 1997) (emphasis added). This

amendment deleted the reference to "under the proceedings" and added the

ninety day determinate sentence limitation.







Appellant argues because the legislature deleted the "under the

proceedings" language, it intended for this sentencing limitation to apply

to all juvenile proceedings, including contempt proceedings. Thus,

according to appellant, the amended statute limits the judge's ability to

commit a delinquent juvenile contemnor to the custody of DJJ for a



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In the Interest of Vincent J





determinate period more than ninety days.3





We disagree. In our opinion, the deletion of the language

"under the proceedings" does not expand the scope of this statutory

provision to include all juvenile proceedings. We find this

provision refers only to delinquency proceedings since this provision is part of a paragraph

which deals with commitments for delinquency. In recodifying this

paragraph, the legislature simply eliminated unnecessary language. It did

not alter the meaning of this paragraph. Thus, this section does not

restrict the sanctions available to a family court under its inherent

contempt power







Our interpretation is further supported by the fact the

legislature specifically limits the available sanctions for a status offender

contemnor. S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-7810(F) (Supp. 1997).





Section 20-7-7810(B) does not limit a family court's power to

commit a delinquent juvenile contemnor to the custody of DJJ for a period

of time exceeding 90 days; therefore, we uphold appellant's sentence.

AFFIRMED.

FINNEY, C.J., TOAL, MOORE, and WALLER, JJ., concur.






3 Because an indeterminate sentence might result in a sentence that

is more than 180 days, the family court cannot sentence a contemner to

imprisonment for an indeterminate amount of time. A jury trial is

required to sentence a contemnor to more than 180 days (6 months) of

imprisonment and the family court does not conduct jury trials. See

Poston v. Poston, Op. No. 24802 (S.C. Sup. Ct. filed June 8, 1998); S.C.

Code Ann. § 20-7-755 (Supp. 1997).

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