SC court sets new guidelines for 'castle-doctrine' law

sbowman@islandpacket.comAugust 21, 2013 

Preston Oates

STAFF PHOTO

The case of a former Bluffton tow-truck driver accused of manslaughter could be headed for a speedier end, after a S.C. Supreme Court ruling Wednesday set new guidelines for court cases involving the state's self-defense law.

The "stand-your-ground" or "castle-doctrine" law gives defendants immunity from prosecution if a judge rules they killed someone while defending themselves or others from intruders in their homes, workplaces or vehicles.

Defendants denied such immunity by a judge have sometimes delayed the start of their trials by appealing that ruling. But Wednesday, the state Supreme Court indicated that such appeals cannot not be filed until after the defendant is tried.

It remains unclear what that might mean for Preston Oates, who was charged in the Christmas Eve 2010 shooting death of 34-year-old Carlos Olivera in Bluffton after Oates tried to tow Olivera's van.

As of Wednesday morning, Oates' case remained in the S.C. Court of Appeals, where it has lingered since a Circuit Court judge in March 2012 denied his claim that he was immune from prosecution. Oates' lawyer, Jared Newman, appealed that decision the next month.

Oates is charged with manslaughter, but his trial has been delayed until his appeal was settled.

But after Wednesday's decision, "I would think we probably would get an order from the Court of Appeals for dismissal or to hear our briefs very soon and then we would go to trial," Newman said. "The decision says we can't appeal after the judge's initial ruling, so I guess the Appeals Court will have to follow the law on that."

Such appeals would also be heard faster, according to 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone -- the case of those appealing a denial of immunity would go straight to the Supreme Court after the trial.

"This is a tremendous development in state law, and it will streamline the whole process, which is much needed," Stone said. "I think the Supreme Court was recognizing the delays taking place, and this is not just unique to Preston Oates' case but was happening throughout the state."

The Supreme Court's decision involved Greg Isaac, who is accused of killing Antonio Corbitt after Isaac broke into Corbitt's home in 2005 in Richland County. Isaac says he shot Corbitt because Corbitt attacked him.

The Supreme Court's decision to send Corbitt's case back to Circuit Court for trial was unanimous and written by Chief Justice Jean Toal.

Oates' father, Paul Oates, said he did not know details of the Supreme Court decision but hopes it will not be applied to his son's case.

"All this was filed almost a year ago before this decision, so I would think any cases already filed would go through as is and then it would apply to new cases today going forward from today," he said. "His appeal should be grandfathered in."

Newman and Stone said they will now wait for the Appeals Court to direct them on how to proceed.

Attempts Wednesday to reach Nelson Olivera, the brother of Carlos Olivera, were unsuccessful.

John Monk with The (Columbia) State contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

Ex.- Bluffton tow-truck driver charged with manslaughter must continue wearing tracking device, July 31, 2013

Lowcountry rally calls for end to 'stand your ground' laws, July 20, 2013

Olivera's family to get $1.7 million from Oates, neighborhood in lawsuit, August 5, 2013

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