Is South Carolina Legislation Aimed at Reforming “Bail Reform” a Move Toward Good News?

Is South Carolina Legislation Aimed at Reforming “Bail Reform” a Move Toward Good News?

By Doug Wyllie

The second official state flag of South Carolina, approved by legislation in 1910 and codified in 1932. Image courtesy of the South Carolina Legislature and South Carolina State Flag Study Committee.

We’ve seen this story before. It’s a story of bad news, good news, bad news, good news, and news yet to be determined…

There’s surely a “prequel” and an “origin story” for each of the main characters, but for our purposes, let’s call this the opening scene.

In the middle of the afternoon in the middle of December 2021, two young men were shot and left for dead in an apartment complex just outside the wire of Joint Base Charleston on the Copper River in South Carolina.

Police arrived soon thereafter, followed closely by emergency medical personnel. The casualties were transported to a nearby hospital, where 21-year-old Jonathan Smith was pronounced dead and the other victim—whose name was not released—was treated for non-fatal wounds.

Wrong-headed and Needing Repair

According to WCSC-TV News, an initial investigation led police to quickly arrest 18-year-old Jaylin Williams on a charge of accessory after the fact of murder. Williams had allegedly been present at the scene during the murder, and subsequently removed items of “evidentiary value.” The charge against Williams was subsequently upgraded to murder.

Three weeks later, the suspected trigger-man—identified as 18-year-old Levi Richardson III—surrendered without incident at a local detention center. Richardson was charged murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

Fast-forward to mid-June of this year. That’s when Williams and Richardson—both still charged with capital murder in South Carolina—were arrested on entirely new charges of unlawful carrying of a handgun and possession of (with intent to distribute) crack cocaine.

According to WCIV-TV News, at the time of their most recent arrest, Williams and Richardson had in their possession three handguns, more than five grams of crack cocaine, more than 12 grams of GPM, a digital scale, and about $1,700 in cash.

Before we proceed further, we need to back up just a little bit and consider out how—and why—Williams and Richardson weren’t in jail while awaiting trial for killing Jonathan Smith.

The short answer is that Richardson was released on $50,000 bond in March 2022 and Williams was released on $50,000 bond in March 2023.

The long answer is that even in the Palmetto State—where four of the past five governors have been “Republican” and “Conservative”—the criminal justice system is in some ways just like nearly everywhere else in the country: wrong-headed and in need of repair.


Before we proceed further, let’s review:

  • Man murdered shortly before Christmas 2021: bad news
  • Two suspects arrested and charged within weeks: good news
  • Both defendants released on bond while awaiting trial: bad news
  • Both offenders arrested again, charged, and currently in jail: good news
  • What happens next is anybody’s guess so let’s file that under “to be determined”

Level-headed Legislation Proposed

Here’s where the “good-news-bad-news” storyline gets slightly more straightforward. Under legislation now on its way to the governor’s desk, repeat violent offenders awaiting trial—like Williams and Richardson—won’t be as likely to be released on bail/bond.

According to WLTX-TV News, both houses of the South Carolina legislature recently approved House Bill 3532—after a six-member panel had modified it from a previous version—clearing the path for it to be delivered to Governor Henry McMaster for his signature.

That final version of the bill includes an element stipulating that certain offenders—individuals charged with various violent crimes, weapons offenses, or certain crimes against children while out on bond for another violent offense—may have their initial bond agreement revoked following an additional arrest.

According to WCSC-TV News, if that bond is revoked, a new bond hearing would have to be held in circuit court, and if bond is granted on that second offense, the defendant—or a bail bondsman—would have to pay it 100% in full, in cash. If the offender commits three or more criminal acts while out on bond for a violent crime or felony, they will have to pay a full cash bond without a bail bondsman.

Further, if the offender is found guilty of committing that subsequent violent crime while out on bond, judges would have flexibility to sentence up to five addition years in prison on top of the sentence for the initial crime.

According to WACH-TV-News, Attorney General Alan Wilson released a statement lauding the bill’s approval, saying in part, “South Carolina is now one step closer to keeping violent criminals behind bars.”

Wilson added, “This bill sends a strong message to repeat criminals: enough is enough.”

Once McMaster signs it, the law immediately goes into effect.

We can file that under “good news.”

Headed in the Right Direction

The bill passed in a 92-20 with all Republicans and 10 Democrats voting in favor so it’s rather difficult to find people outspoken in their opposition to this level-headed legislation—difficult, but not impossible.

As the bill matriculated through the legislative process, State Representative Todd Rutherford of Richland County used some tortured logic in his opposition, at one point saying, “What happens to the government—what happens to a law enforcement officer when he raises the charge to violent even though it’s not?”

In all seriousness, he also questioned the constitutionality of the proposed law, saying that it could infringe on the presumption of innocence while awaiting trial. Rutherford could have—and probably should have—stopped there because that argument might actually have some legal merit.

However, Rutherford then went on to accuse Republican lawmakers of “bumper sticker politics” and presented predictable partisan “alternatives” such as allocating state funds for more GPS monitoring devices and hiring more counselors to “help offenders get jobs.”


In all fairness, Representative Rutherford isn’t much of a villain—especially when compared with other folks who have held that role on our Wall of Shame.

He’s certainly nowhere near as dangerous as Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, or as inept as New York Governor Kathy Hochul, or as misguided as the Ohio Parole Board. He’s certainly not as hapless as Harris County (TX) Judge Hilary Unger or as careless as embattled Alameda County (CA) District Attorney Pamela Price or as reckless as former St. Louis (MO) Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.

A cursory appraisal of his resume reveals a relatively unsurprising road to his current role as Minority Leader of the South Carolina House of Representatives. In 1998 he was elected to represent House District 74 in the General Assembly and was named Young Democrat of the year in 1999.

A passing glance at his voting record shows that there pretty much isn’t an appropriations or spending measure he doesn’t support, or a voter ID, school choice, anti-abortion, or pro-Second Amendment measure he does support.

Earlier this year, Rutherford joined Representatives Deon Tedder and Roger Kirby in announcing the formation of the Freedom Caucus of South Carolina, which according to a press release will push “legislative priorities” such as abortion rights and “stopping censorship in the classroom.”

Ultimately, Rutherford—and others who opposed 3532—achieved what was permitted by the democratic process and accomplished as much as their criminal coddling constituents can expect.

Ultimately, when 3532 becomes law, the good citizens of South Carolina may have acquired what is best for them—safety—and now be headed in the right direction toward some long-awaited good news.

Ultimately, though, that’s still to be determined…