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24998 - In the Interest of Tonisha G.

Shearouse Adv. Sh. No. 29
S.E. 2d

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.

p.6


In re Tonisha G.

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)

days.

FACTS

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.

ISSUE

Did the family court err in sentencing a juvenile status offender

contemnor to a sentence greater than the ninety (90) days allowed by

statute?

DISCUSSION

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

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In re Tonisha G.

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.

We agree.

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

listed. Id.

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.

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