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2011-UP-091 - State v. Watkins

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE. IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State, Respondent,

v.

Robert Watkins, Appellant.


Appeal From Greenville County
Larry R. Patterson, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2011-UP-091
Submitted February 1, 2011 – Filed March 8, 2011   


REVERSED


Appellate Defender Elizabeth Franklin-Best, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan M. Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Assistant Attorney General William M. Blitch, Jr., all of Columbia; and Solicitor Robert M. Arial, of Greenville, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: Robert Watkins appeals his convictions for armed robbery and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.  His trial resulted from a grant of post-conviction relief (PCR) by the South Carolina Supreme Court.  The judge of that new trial was the same judge who presided over Watkins's PCR hearing.  On appeal from the new trial, Watkins argues the trial judge erred in (1) denying Watkins's recusal motion and (2) granting Watkins's motion to proceed pro se.  We reverse.[1]

Generally, "[a] judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned . . . ."  Canon 3(E)(1), CJC, Rule 501, SCACR.  In Floyd v. State, 303 S.C. 298, 400 S.E.2d 145 (1991), the South Carolina Supreme Court granted a defendant a new PCR hearing because the judge who presided over his PCR hearing also presided over the trial from which PCR was sought.  Id. at 299, 400 S.E.2d at 146.  The court held that "in all [PCR] hearings . . . , a judge shall, upon motion, recuse himself if he was the judge who presided at the guilty plea, criminal trial, or probation revocation proceeding for which relief is being sought."  Id.  The Floyd court emphasized that "a per se rule of recusal . . . will eliminate even the suggestion of partiality."  Id.

Here, we find Floyd's reasoning is equally applicable to the situation presented by Watkins's new trial.  As held in Floyd, a judge must grant a recusal motion made during a new trial arising from a PCR hearing in which the judge also sat.  Accordingly, the trial judge erred in denying Watkins's motion for recusal.

Because we reverse the trial court on the above issue, we do not address Watkins's remaining argument.  See State v. Taylor, 388 S.C. 101, 124 n.23, 694 S.E.2d 60, 72 n.23 (Ct. App. 2010) (holding that an appellate court need not address remaining issues when a decision on a prior issue is dispositive). 

REVERSED.

WILLIAMS, GEATHERS, and LOCKEMY, JJ., concur.


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