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McMaster vetoes bill dropping gun charge that’s no longer a crime


McMaster vetoes bill dropping gun charge that’s no longer a crime

May 21, 2024 | 5:45 pm ET
By Abraham Kenmore
McMaster vetoes bill dropping gun charge that’s no longer a crime
Gov. Henry McMaster signed legislation Thursday, March 7, 2024, allowing adults to legally carry a handgun without a permit. This is a file photo pistols and gun cartridges at a gun training range. (Aleksandar Georgiev/Getty Images)

COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed three bills Tuesday that drop or expunge criminal charges, including a charge that’s no longer a crime. 

When lawmakers in March made it legal for adults to carry handguns without a permit, they left people who had already been arrested with unlawful carry in limbo. The law did, however, allow for past convictions to be expunged.

A week after McMaster signed the permit-less carry law, which took effect immediately, Sen. Deon Tedder introduced a bill to dismiss charges for those still facing potential conviction for the now-nonexistent crime. Only two legislators voted against it in the House. The Senate approved it unanimously. 

But McMaster, the state’s former attorney general, said whether those charges are dropped should be entirely up to prosecutors.

“I have great respect and admiration for prosecutors and recognize the important role that prosecutorial discretion plays in our criminal justice system,” McMaster wrote in a letter explaining his veto. “I am therefore wary of any attempt to limit that authority and discretion.”

McMaster also argued that even if people charged with unlawful possession would not be breaking the law today, they should face the consequences for doing something illegal at the time.  

Tedder, D-Charleston, told the SC Daily Gazette last week dismissing the pending gun charges was simply a matter of fairness. Some solicitors started dismissing charges anyway once the permit-less carry law passed, Lisa Catalanotto, executive director of the SC Commission on Prosecution Coordination, told the Gazette last week. 

McMaster on Tuesday also vetoed a law that allowed for the expungement of convictions for writing fraudulent checks, on the grounds that it would make it harder for employers to determine someone’s criminal history. 

He also said that he was open to passing legislation making it easier for those with a criminal record to find work.

The third bill the governor vetoed would allow for a diversion and education program for first-time offenders who sell alcohol to minors, allowing them to avoid conviction. 

“I believe in the Rule of Law, but I also believe in grace,” the governor wrote in explaining that veto, using similar language to his letter on the check fraud bill. “To these ends, second chances should be freely given when individuals have made mistakes and paid their debts to society; however criminal history, like all history, should not be erased.”

Rep. Seth Rose, chief sponsor of the conditional discharge bill, said he’s not surprised by the governor’s veto, which he expects to be overturned.

The vetoes continue McMaster’s long-held stance that criminal histories should not be erased.

In 2018, he vetoed legislation backed by business leaders that expanded the nonviolent crimes ex-cons can get removed from their records. It became law anyway after legislators voted overwhelmingly to override his opposition.

“It’s always interesting when the governor vetoes anything having to do with an expungement,” said Rose, D-Columbia.

An override requires supermajority votes in both chambers. Legislators could vote to do that when they return next month for an extended session.

Chief sponsors of the other bills could not be immediately reached for comment.

McMaster signed far more into law than he vetoed.

He signed more than 55 bills on Monday and Tuesday, including a bill banning hormone therapy for transgender youth.