‘Now’s the time to do it’: McMaster renews call for bond reform

Gov. Henry McMaster is calling on state lawmakers to create stiffer penalties for illegal gun possession and reform the state’s bond process.
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 9:32 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 6, 2023 at 6:48 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster is calling on state lawmakers to create stiffer penalties for illegal gun possession and reform the state’s bond process.

“Close that revolving door. How long are we going to wait?” McMaster said.

Joining McMaster at a news conference at the State House on Tuesday was Lance Cpl. B.A. Frazier of the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

Frazier stopped a vehicle for speeding in Bamberg County on April 16 and was shot in the face by the suspect.

McMaster said the person arrested in the shooting, 37-year-old Derrick Gathers, was out on bond on charges in Georgia.

“The gun that was used to shoot Trooper Frazier according to state law enforcement division, it was a stolen gun, which meant it is illegal to have it in your possession,” McMaster said. “Also if the serial numbers had been scraped off, filed off, it is an illegal gun.”

McMaster also highlighted a Charleston County officer-involved shooting from May that resulted in a deputy being wounded three times. The suspect in the shooting, 28-year-old James Rakeem Pierce, was fatally shot by deputies.

McMaster has frequently pushed for a minimum five-year sentence for people who commit a crime while they are out on bond.

“When someone is arrested when they go out on bond on one crime and they are arrested on another crime while their own bond from the first then they should face a mandatory, five-year conviction for that second crime when they are convicted of it,” McMaster said.

The South Carolina General Assembly is currently in a special session, called by McMaster in May to conclude unfinished business, including finalizing the state budget, passing a now-blocked six-week abortion ban, and wrapping up other outstanding legislation, including the bond reform and illegal gun bills.

However, the legislature can take up any business it chooses during the special session, and it can bring the session to a close and leave Columbia for the rest of the year when it wants.

Lawmakers have yet to finalize the state’s $13 million budget, set to start July 1 if it is signed into law by then.

McMaster said lawmakers should pass the spending plan then stay to pass bond reform legislation.

“Now’s the time to do it,” McMaster said. “There’s no limit on the time that the General Assembly can stay to finish their work. And I ask again as I have repeatedly in private and public get this done, let this let this be a landmark session for the criminal laws of South Carolina. Fully protect the people of South Carolina.”

McMaster has repeatedly made this same push this year, including in April, shortly after a shooting that injured five people on the Isle of Palms.

“What do you tell the family of someone who had been caught, arrested, put in jail — once, twice, three times — who then shows up and kills your loved one?” McMaster said during that April news conference. “What do you tell them?”

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed a bond reform bill, H.3532, but changes were made from one chamber to the other. Neither chamber has been willing to agree with the other’s version, so a conference committee — a group of three senators and three House members — has been tasked with negotiating a compromise to send to the entire General Assembly and then the governor.

That conference committee has yet to meet or publicly schedule a meeting.

Under the version of the bill passed in the House, people who commit a violent crime, certain weapons offenses, or certain crimes against children while out on bond for another violent offense would automatically have that initial bond revoked.

Then a new bond hearing would have to be held in circuit court within 14 days, and if they are granted bond on that second offense, they or a bail bondsman would have to pay it in full in cash.

In the Housew version, if the person is ultimately convicted of that subsequent violent crime and found to have committed it while out on bond, they would have a mandatory, additional five years tacked onto their prison sentence, though that could be served concurrently with their time for the offense itself, at the judge’s discretion.

Senators stripped the mandatory, five-year add-on from the version of the legislation they passed. Some lawmakers argued it could be unconstitutional, while others contended mandatory sentences aren’t an effective deterrent for would-be criminals.

Senators also added new electronic monitoring requirements and a guarantee that people whose bond is revoked under this bill could get a trial within six months, giving judges some discretion to delay that.

McMaster’s news conference Tuesday morning comes a day after South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel sent a letter to the state’s General Assembly, calling on lawmakers to pass H.3532.

In the letter, Wilson and Keel are in support of many of the provisions in the bill:

  • SLED would certify all entities that provide electronic monitoring, including electronic monitoring companies, law enforcement agencies, and bonding companies that provide electronic monitoring;
  • Electronic monitoring agencies would be required to provide law enforcement and prosecuting agencies with real-time monitoring and notice of violations;
  • An up-to-date list of certified monitoring companies would be kept publicly available and both bonding companies and courts would be required to use only these companies;
  • The companies would be required to provide a report of who they are monitoring to clerks of court as bonding companies do;
  • Courts would be allowed to order a specific monitoring company when it is deemed prudent or necessary; and If necessary, allow defendants to pay the monitoring company or clerk and provide proof of payment to the bondsman.

“It’s absolutely important that, if you’re going to pass traffic laws, that you put traffic police out there to police people on the roads,” Wilson said in an interview on why he is advocating for the inclusion of the electronic monitoring measures. “This is exactly what this is. We have people out there who are accepting payment, making money for monitoring these violent criminals who are out on bond, but they’re not doing it.”

The letter states the flaw with electronic monitoring in the state is the lack of standards in the monitoring.

Wilson and Keel argue the lack of standards “poses a safety risk for victims and the community.”

“Right now, if someone is monitoring a person who gets out on bond after committing a violent offense, and they’re out in the community, and the bondsmen or the company monitoring them fails to monitor them, and they violate the conditions of their bond, there’s really no consequence,” Wilson said.

The governor is also urging lawmakers to toughen up the penalties for possessing illegal guns.

The House put these penalties in a larger bill it passed that would allow adults in South Carolina to carry guns without a permit or training.

The Senate has yet to debate that controversial, permitless carry bill, and instead, it recently added the illegal gun penalties to another bill to criminalize fentanyl trafficking.

But those penalties would only apply to people convicted of certain drug crimes.

McMaster said Tuesday that’s not enough.

“It needs to apply to all, essentially, violent crimes,” McMaster said. “Why limit it to just fentanyl crimes? How about rape? How about assault and battery? How about murder? How about all of the rest of them?”

If lawmakers fail to get these bills to the governor before they end their special session, they would likely have to wait until next year to take them up, when they begin another regular legislative session.

But McMaster told reporters Tuesday he might contemplate calling them back to Columbia again this year to get it done.