Some court cases make history; others have history thrust upon them. On May 5, the South Carolina Court of Appeals embraced the latter and heard oral arguments via Webex for the first time in the court’s history.
A three-judge panel comprised of Chief Judge James Lockemy and Judges John Geathers and Blake Hewitt heard two cases, State v. Woods and State v. Barnes.
Woods is appealing his conviction of second-degree sexual conduct with a minor, contending that the trial court erred by admitting the victim’s testimony about conduct that occurred prior to the time period alleged in the indictment.
Barnes is appealing his murder conviction, arguing the trial court erred in refusing to dismiss his indictment because the state violated his state and federal rights to a speedy trial and did not comply with the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act.
Robert Dudek, chief appellate defender for the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, represented Woods.
“I thought it went incredibly well,” Dudek said. “The courts put a lot of work into it. I’ve done this for more than 30 years, and it didn’t seem much different at all, other than, obviously, we weren’t in the courtroom.”
Conducting oral arguments via teleconferencing would have been difficult to imagine even just a few months ago, but many states are starting to embrace it as a way to allow appellate courts’ work to continue while complying with social distancing requirements. North Carolina’s Court of Appeals similarly held its first oral arguments hearing on April 30, and by all accounts, it, too, was a logistical success.