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Despite guilty plea to simple assault and battery on child at issue, Court of Appeals reverses family court finding that defendant abused child

The Court of Appeals’ decision in South Carolina Department of Social Services v. C.H., L.K., T.M. and D.M., 386 S.C. 58, 685 S.E.2d 835 (2009), reversed the family court’s finding that L.K. abused her friend’s child, and placing her on the Central Registry, despite L.K. pleading guilty to simple assault and battery on child at issue.  The case presented an interesting, and probably unique, factual circumstance.

L.K. was indicted for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature after allegedly slamming the child’s hand on the wall.  She pled guilty to simple assault and battery and was sentenced to three days’ imprisonment.

At the DSS abuse and neglect trial, DSS presented no evidence other than L.K.’s guilty plea.  Based on that plea, the family court judge found abuse and ordered L.K. placed on the Central Registry.

On appeal, L.K. argued that her guilty plea did not prove that she had committed child abuse as defined by S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-20(4), as that guilty plea did not prove that she was “responsible for the child’s welfare.”  Because the guilty plea did not establish that L.K. was responsible for the child’s welfare, a necessary element of DSS’s case could not be proved from the guilty plea, and thus the Court of Appeals reversed the family court’s decision.

Had DSS presented any evidence that L.K. was responsible for the child’s welfare, the Court of Appeals would likely have affirmed the family court.  Instead, due to an assumption that the guilty plea would be sufficient to prove abuse, DSS lost the case on appeal.

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