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Two-timing man claims duplicity of the legal kind

Justice Kaye Hearn seemed to relish the recent task of writing the state Supreme Court’s opinion in State v. Samuels, seizing the opportunity to expound on both the legal and common understandings of duplicity, describing it as “an ill-favored quality in both life and the law.”

In the case of defendant/appellant Myron Samuels, duplicity “commonly understood to be synonymous with deceitfulness and double-dealing,” Hearn wrote, led to his undoing. But a duplicitous indictment could not save him from being found guilty of his crime. The court ruled against Samuels, a lothario indicted of one count of assault with attempt to kill one “and/or” two of his lovers.

Samuels, who worked as an administrator for South Carolina State University, had two girlfriends – at least. Patricia Speaks and Carla Daniels were both involved with Samuels in April 2009. When Daniels figured out Samuels was two-timing her, she went to Speaks’ house in Columbia looking for him. She planned to confront Samuels, but wound up instead talking with Speaks, who told her that Samuels was involved with two other women as well.

Speaks had the phone numbers of the other two women, and Daniels gave one of them a call. While she was on the phone, Samuels held a gun to Daniels’ forehead. Police reports state that he pulled the trigger but the gun didn’t fire. Speaks began screaming, and Samuels turned the gun on her, again pulling the trigger without the gun firing. Samuels ran and Speaks ran after him, which prompted him to hit her.

The indictment alleged a single count of “assault with intent to kill upon the victim, Patricia Speaks and/or Carla Daniels.” A jury, which was given a special verdict form with two parts, found Samuels guilty of simple assault of Speaks and assault of a high and aggravated nature of Daniels. Samuels argued that he should be sentenced to the lesser offense. The trial court disagreed and sentenced him to 10 years in prison, suspended to time served, and three years of probation, 200 hours of community service and anger management classes.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, the court agreed that the indictment was duplicitous, but denied that the duplicity prejudiced Samuels. Finding scant South Carolina case law addressing the matter, the court adopted the federal standard established by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in U.S. v. Sturdivant.

Sturdivant offers policy considerations for analyzing whether a defendant suffered prejudice due to a duplicitous indictment: Does uncertainty about the general verdict conceal a finding of guilt in one crime and not the other? Was there a risk jurors may not have been unanimous regarding one of the crimes? Does the indictment assure the defendant adequate notice, provide for appropriate sentencing and protect against double jeopardy?

The Supreme Court also found that the trial court’s sentence was correct because Samuels was tried for only one count and sentenced for only one count.

James M. Griffin of Lewis, Babcock & Griffin in Columbia represented the appellant. The attorney general’s office and 5th Circuit Solicitor Daniel E. Johnson represented the state.

The seven-page decision is State v. Samuels (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-059-13). The full text of the opinion is available online at

Follow Amber Nimocks on Twitter @NCLWTechTalk

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