THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
In the Interest of
Tonisha G., a minor
under the age of
seventeen (17), Appellant.
Appeal From Orangeburg County
Alvin C. Biggs, Family Court Judge
Opinion No. 24998
Heard June 22, 1999 - Filed September 7, 1999
AFFIRMED IN PART; VACATED IN PART.
Assistant Appellate Defender Tara S. Taggart, of
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.
FINNEY, C.J.: Tonisha G. appeals her sentence of six months
suspended upon the service of one hundred fifty (150) days and one (1) year
probation. We vacate the portion of the sentence which exceeds ninety (90)
Tonisha G. (appellant) was originally found to be truant for violating
S.C. Code Ann.§ 59-65-10, placed on probation and ordered to cooperate for
placement at Florence Crittendon until the birth of her child. Appellant
missed two pre-placement interviews for Florence Crittendon, and the Rule
to Show Cause was issued. On April 21, 1998, appellant was before the
family court judge for contempt proceedings.
Appellant pled guilty to the contempt charges, and the family court
judge sentenced appellant to six (6) months suspended upon the service of
one hundred fifty (150) days and one (1) year probation. Appellant filed a
motion to reconsider based on the alleged illegality of the sentence. The
judge denied this motion.
Did the family court err in sentencing a juvenile status offender
contemnor to a sentence greater than the ninety (90) days allowed by
S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-7810(F) (Supp. 1998) provides:
[A] child who is guilty of a violation of law or other misconduct
which would not be a criminal offense if committed by an adult, a
child who has been found in contempt of court for violation of a
court order related to a violation of law or other misconduct
which would not be a criminal offense if committed by an adult,
or a child who violates the conditions of probation for a violation
of law or other misconduct which would not be a criminal offense
if committed by an adult may be committed to the custody of a
correctional institution operated by the Department of Juvenile
Justice or to secure evaluation centers operated by the
department for a determinate period not to exceed ninety
days .... (emphasis added)
Appellant contends that § 20-7-78 10(F) restricts a trial judge from
sentencing a status offender contemnor to more than a ninety-day sentence.
A status offense is one which, if committed by an adult would not be a
crime. S.C. Code Ann.§ 20-7-30(6) (Supp. 1998). Truancy is specifically
This Court has stated that the primary function of the court in
interpreting a statute is to ascertain the intention of the legislature. In the
Interest of Vincent J., 333 S.C. 233, 509 S.E.2d 261 (1998). It is not the
Court's place to change the meaning of a clear and unambiguous statute. Id.
Section 20-7-7810(F) expressly restricts a family court's authority to sanction
a status offender contemnor. Id. We find that the legislative mandate that a
status offender contemnor be committed to the custody of Department of
Juvenile Justice or to a secure evaluation center operated by the department
for a determinate period not to exceed ninety (90) days to be reasonable.
The family court judge erred in sentencing appellant to more than
ninety (90) days. Thus, Tonisha's sentence of six (6) months suspended
upon the service of one hundred fifty (150) days and one (1) year probation
exceeds the maximum sentence for status offenders; therefore, the portion
which exceeds ninety (90) days is hereby vacated.
For the foregoing reasons, Tonisha's sentence is
AFFIRMED IN PART; VACATED IN PART.
TOAL, MOORE, WALLER, and BURNETT, JJ., concur.