In The Case of State v. Preston Ryan Oates
On July 26, 2017, The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the Circuit Courts ruling denying Oates motion for immunity from prosecution pursuant to the Protection of Persons and Property Act as well as Oates’ challenge alleging the Circuit Court was incorrect in refusing to grant a directed verdict of acquittal on the grounds that the State failed to disprove self-defense.
On Christmas Eve of 2010 the deceased was visiting his brother and his family. The deceased parked his vehicle on the street in the neighborhood. Parking on the street was prohibited by the HOA. Oates was a tow truck driver hired by the HOA to tow vehicles parked on the streets. Oates put a boot on the deceased vehicle and was beginning to hook the vehicle up to the tow truck. A neighbor informed the deceased that his vehicle was in the process of being towed. The deceased, the deceased’s brother, and the neighbor asked Oates not to tow the vehicle. Oates felt intimidated and got back into his truck and locked it. Oates testified that the deceased told the neighbor to ‘go get my shotgun’. Deceased’s brother told Oates to ‘take that[boot] off his vehicle’. Oates said he responded, “Okay, let me call my office and see what they [want to] do and we’ll get a handle…It’s not a problem, we can work this out.” Oates testified he heard a round being chambered. Deceased allegedly said, ‘You’re going to take this off right now and I’m leaving”. Oates allegedly stated that was fine. The deceased brother stated the deceased pulled a gun out of his pants, ratcheted the gun, and said, “Nobody’s going to take my car.” This made Oates nervous. Oates began fumbling his keys when the deceased’s brother grabbed them. Oates stated the deceased inquired whether he had any paper work on the vehicle because he did not want law enforcement to ‘come look’ for him. Oates showed the deceased a ledger to assure him he had no paperwork on the minivan. Oates also pulled out his gun from the glove box at this time. Oates testified that a concerned lady that lived nearby offered to call 911 but that Oates stated, ‘Don’t worry about it, everything’s fine, go back inside, he’s got a gun, so everything’s okay here’ hoping to alert the lady without alerting the other men. The deceased then demanded that Oates take the book off the vehicle.
At this time a struggle ensued. This case came down to the credibility of the witnesses. Ultimately, Oates lost the battle of credibility and was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 26 years.
Procedurally, Oates requested immunity from prosecution because he argued there was evidence the deceased was trying to remove him from his vehicle. To be granted immunity Oates would have had to show that he had a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to himself while using deadly force when the deceased unlawfully and forcibly entered the vehicle he occupied or that the deceased attempted to remove Oates from his vehicle.
The Circuit Court denied Oates’ request for immunity reasoning that the facts did not show that the deceased was unlawfully or forcibly entering, or had entered Oates’ vehicle at a time when Oates’ had a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury. The Circuit Court found the deceased was walking away from Oates’ truck at the time Oates’ got out and shot the deceased. Further the Circuit Court held that Oates’ ‘use of deadly force against the victim was not necessary to prevent his own death or great bodily injury or the commission of a violent crime.” Further reasoning, ‘assuming that there was an “attack” previously, there was no such event at the time of the shooting.’
The Court clarified issues concerning the burden of proof concerning self-defense ruling that the State is not required to disprove the elements of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt at an immunity hearing but would have the burden if self-defense is properly submitted to the jury.
This appears to be a case that was decided almost entirely on the testimony of the eye witnesses and the forensic pathologist. In analyzing whether one has a self-defense claim testimony and timing are all too important.
Alex Kornfeld is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Greenville, SC. If you have been arrested or are under suspicion of a crime, it may be in your best interest to consult with an attorney. You may reach Alex by phone at 864-335-9990.
Source: State v. Preston Ryan Oates