Perils for SC Pro Se Appellants

Lay persons may represent themselves in the South Carolina Court of Appeals. But they will be held to the same standards that apply to attorneys. So pro se appellants face the same error-preservation and procedural rules that have tripped up many attorneys. 

“There is a statutory right to proceed pro se in South Carolina. S.C. Code Ann. § 40-5-80 (1986).” Washington v. Washington308 S.C. 549, 550, 419 S.E.2d 779, 780 (1992). But this does not make it wise.

Ring FireThe South Carolina Supreme Court’s website warns, “If you pursue your appeal without the assistance of a lawyer, you nevertheless are required to comply with the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules.” The Court put it this way: “A pro se litigant who knowingly elects to represent himself assumes full responsibility for complying with substantive and procedural requirements of the law.”  State v. Burton, 356 S.C. 259, 265 n. 5, 589 S.E.2d 6, 9 n. 5 (2003).

Citing Burton, the Court of Appeals has held that lay persons who represent themselves must:

• raise an issue in the trial court to later raise it on appeal. Steffens v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, Op. No. 2017-UP-268 (S.C. Ct.App. filed July 5, 2017); Champion v. South Carolina Dept. of Motor Vehicles, Op. No. 2016-UP-009 (S.C. Ct. App. filed January 13, 2016);  Graham v. Graham, Op. No. 2004-UP-046 (S.C. Ct. App. filed January 21, 2004);

• make a Rule 59 motion for the trial court to rule on an issue that was not ruled on. Myers v. KaufmannOp. No. 2016-UP-125 (S.C. Ct. App. filed March 2, 2016).;

•  cite authority in their briefs. Jacobs v. JacksonOp. No. 2005-UP-549 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Oct. 10, 2005); Archie v. Howie, Op. No. 2004-UP-355 (S.C. Ct. App. filed June 4, 2004);

•  state the issue in the statement of issues presented for review and argue the issue in the body of their briefs.  Diabate v. MUSC, Op. No. 2004-UP-361 (S.C. Ct. App. filed June 4, 2004);

•  prepare a sufficient Record on Appeal. Uzenda v. PittmanOp. No. 2006-UP-313 (S.C. Ct. App. filed July 20, 2006); Babb v. Thompson, Op, No. 2004-UP-520 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Oct. 14, 2004); and

•  cite to the Record on Appeal in their briefs. Stroman v. Robinson, Op. No. 2005-UP-005 (S.C. Ct. App. filed January 7, 2005).

Lawyers often stumble over these same requirements. Examples may be found here, here, and here. So it may be too much to ask from lay persons. The United States Circuit Court for the Fourth Circuit, which covers South Carolina, employs a much more informal process in federal pro se appeals.

What do you all think? Should pro se litigants be held to the same standards as attorneys? Why or why not?

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One thought on “Perils for SC Pro Se Appellants

  1. Carolynn E Wood

    Yes, I believe that pro se litigants have a very hard time, and even though there is leniency allowed by caselaw, it wouldn’t be fair to anyone if pro se’ litigants didn’t have to get anything right, correct, or even follow any rules. That’s why prison/jailhouse lawyers are so valuable. But what about those of us who are pro se and cannot find anyone to help? My question back at you is this: If a pro se’ litigant cannot get the help they need on their own, and they ask the court in their pleading to appoint them someone to help, and the court doesn’t… then, perhaps they shouldn’t be held to such high standards. That’s my situation… ~~ Carolynn Wood, pro se’ SCSC Case 2017-001078 – on to the Federal Courts…. alone.

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