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2008-UP-114 - State v. Thomas

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State, Respondent,

v.

Joseph Thomas, Appellant.


Appeal From Spartanburg County
Alexander S. Macaulay, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2008-UP-114
Submitted February 1, 2008 – Filed February 13, 2008


AFFIRMED


Chief Attorney Joseph L. Savitz, III, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, Assistant Attorney General Shawn L. Reeves, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Harold W. Gowdy, III, of Spartanburg, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  Joseph Thomas seeks to vacate a conviction and sentence, arguing the trial court’s denial of his motion for a continuance rendered his guilty plea invalid.  In the alternative, Thomas seeks a new trial.  We affirm.[1]

FACTS

In 2004, the Spartanburg County Grand Jury indicted Thomas on one count of trafficking in more than 200 grams of cocaine, one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, and one count of trafficking in more than ten grams of crack cocaine.  In addition, Thomas was also facing a federal charge for conspiracy to escape.

On July 5, 2005, the assistant United States attorney moved to dismiss the federal charge, purportedly so that Thomas could be extradited to the Bahamas, where he had been charged with murder of a police officer.  Although the details are not clear, there was allegedly an agreement that, if the federal charges were dismissed, the State would likewise dismiss the state charges, thus facilitating the extradition.

At the request of the State, the attorney representing Thomas on the state charges was relieved in February 2006 and a public defender was appointed to represent him soon after.  The public defender first met with Thomas on June 5, 2006, when he allegedly learned Thomas’s trial on the state charges was scheduled for the following week.  About that time, defense counsel also received information about the alleged agreement under which the state charges would be dismissed. 

The case was called for trial on June 12, 2006.  When the hearing began, defense counsel moved for a continuance in the matter, requesting more time to investigate whether the state charges against Thomas should have been dismissed as a result of the charges pending against him in the Bahamas.  The trial court denied the request, noting the case had been on the docket since March 2006.  In addition, the court found Thomas would suffer no legal prejudice from the denial of the continuance because the disposition of the other charges pending against Thomas would not affect the state charges. 

Following a short recess after the denial of the continuance, Thomas agreed to plead guilty to the charge of trafficking in more than 200 grams of cocaine.  In addition, the State agreed to dismiss the firearm charge and the indictment for trafficking in crack cocaine.  The trial court accepted Thomas’s guilty plea and sentenced him to twenty-five years confinement.  This appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

“A motion for a continuance is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court and its ruling on such motion will not be reversed without a clear showing of abuse of discretion.”  State v. Tanner, 299 S.C. 459, 462, 385 S.E.2d 832, 834 (1989).  “Where there is no showing that any other evidence on behalf of the appellant could have been produced, or that any other points could have been raised had more time been granted for the purpose of preparing the case for trial, the denial of a motion for continuance is not an abuse of discretion.”  State v. Williams, 321 S.C. 455, 459, 469 S.E.2d 49, 51-52 (1996) (emphasis added).  A guilty plea acts as a waiver of all non-jurisdictional defects and defenses.  State v. McKennedy, 348 S.C. 270, 280, 559 S.E.2d 850, 855 (2002).

LAW/ANALYSIS

We agree with the State that Thomas’s guilty plea amounted to a waiver of his argument that he should have received a continuance.  See Whetsell v. State, 276 S.C. 295, 299, 277 S.E.2d 891, 892 (1981) (“The general rule is that guilty pleas, freely and voluntarily entered, act as a waiver of all non-jurisdictional defects and defenses, including the claims of a violation of a constitutional right prior to the plea.”). 

Furthermore, defense counsel’s reason for requesting a continuance was to verify his understanding that it was because of the pending state charges that federal authorities had not taken Thomas into custody.  In response to the motion, the solicitor advised the court that (1) a conviction and sentence on the state charges would not prevent extradition; (2) the Bahamian government had not yet begun the formal extradition process; and (3) such a process would take several years.  Moreover, as the solicitor noted, Thomas’s defense counsel had been assigned to the case more than three months before the scheduled trial and the State had incurred considerable expenses to secure the presence of certain witnesses.  Under these circumstances, we hold defense counsel failed to make any showing that a continuance would have enabled him to prepare more fully for trial and the trial court therefore acted within its discretion in denying the continuance.

AFFIRMED.

ANDERSON, SHORT, and THOMAS, JJ., concur.


[1]  We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.