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HAMM v. 2012 209727 (2013)

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Michael E. HAMM, Petitioner, v. STATE of South Carolina, Respondent. Appellate Case No.2012–209727.

Decided: May 08, 2013


Michael E. Hamm (Hamm) seeks a writ of habeas corpus and a declaratory judgment with regard to his civil commitment to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health's Sexually Violent Predator Treatment Program (SVPTP) for long term control, care, and treatment pursuant to the South Carolina Sexually Violent Predator Act, S.C.Code Ann. § 44–48–10, et seq. (the SVP Act). We deny the petition for a writ of habeas corpus and motions to amend or correct the petition, and decline to issue a declaratory judgment.

Hamm seeks habeas relief on the ground that the plea judge and plea counsel were ineffective for failing to inform Hamm that he was subject to the SVP Act as a direct consequence of pleading guilty. Hamm argues that in light of Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 130 S.Ct. 1473, 176 L.Ed.2d 284 (2010),1 his guilty plea was not knowingly, voluntarily, or intelligently entered because defendants must be advised that pleading guilty to certain sex crimes subjects defendants to the SVP Act and its potential implications, such as civil confinement. Hamm also argues that section 16–15–140 is classified as a non-violent offense in the criminal code, but a violent offense for purposes of the SVP Act, and that this distinction is in violation of double jeopardy, due process, and the separation of powers doctrine.

Habeas corpus is available only when other remedies, such as post-conviction relief (PCR), are inadequate or unavailable. Gibson v. State, 329 S.C. 37, 41, 495 S.E.2d 426, 428 (1998); see also Williams v. Ozmint, 380 S.C. 473, 477, 671 S.E.2d 600, 602 (2008) (stating “a writ of habeas corpus is reserved for the very gravest of constitutional violations which, in the setting, constitute[ ] a denial of fundamental fairness shocking to the universal sense of justice”); McWee v. State, 357 S.C. 403, 406, 503 S.E.2d 456, 457 (2004) (stating habeas relief will only be granted under “unique and compelling circumstances”); Butler v. State, 302 S.C. 466, 468, 397 S.E.2d 87, 88 (1990) (“[N]ot every intervening decision, nor every constitutional error at trial will justify issuance of the writ.”) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Hamm failed to file a PCR application raising any issue related to Padilla within one year of that decision, issued March 31, 2010, as required by section 17–27–45 of the South Carolina Code. S.C.Code Ann. § 17–27–45(B) (2003). Because Hamm failed to exhaust all other remedies, he is barred from habeas corpus relief on his Padilla-related grounds. Gibson, 329 S.C. at 40, 495 S.E.2d at 427–28 (stating a petition for habeas relief must, in addition to other requirements, allege petitioner has exhausted all other remedies in order to be entitled to a hearing).

However, were we even to reach Hamm's Padilla claim, he is not entitled to relief. Commitment pursuant to the SVP Act does not automatically flow from the conviction, rather a civil proceeding occurs where the defendant is evaluated before confinement is certain;2 the USSC's rationale under Padilla does not extend to a person's civil commitment under the SVP Act;3 and Padilla does not apply retroactively.4

We further find that classification of S.C.Code Ann. § 16–15–140 as a non-violent offense in the criminal code, but a violent offense for purposes of the SVP Act does not violate double jeopardy, due process, or separation of powers.

Hamm's arguments are without merit because the General Assembly clearly established its intent in enacting the SVP Act was to establish a civil commitment process to address dangerous sexually violent predators likely to re-offend and provide long term care, control and treatment of offenders determined to fall within that group. See, e.g. In the Matter of the Care and Treatment of Beaver, 372 S.C. 272, 277–78, 642 S.E.2d 578, 581 (2007) (holding the lower court erred in finding the lewd act charge was “non-violent” and that defendant should not be confined as a sexually violent predator on the basis of a “non-violent” charge because, while it is true commission of a lewd act on a minor is considered a non-violent offense for criminal purposes, the General Assembly deemed it appropriate to consider the charge violent for purposes of the SVP Act and civil commitment and probable cause hearings under the act).


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HAMM v. 2012 209727 (2013)

Decided: May 08, 2013

Court: Supreme Court of South Carolina.

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