Lawmakers say a Pickens County woman shouldn’t have been arrested for failing to return a rented video nine years ago to a store no longer in business.
And the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says he will look into whether lawmakers can do anything to prohibit arrests of people charged with crimes no longer on the books on behalf of companies no longer in business.
“I’m not sure why those warrants weren’t pulled anyway,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin of Pickens.
“As a practical matter, when the law changes and the statute on which the warrant is drawn is repealed, and certainly when the business is no longer in business, it seems to me you just pull the warrant.”
Kayla Michelle Finley was charged last week with the misdemeanor of petty larceny in relation to a missing video tape of the movie “Monster-In-Law,” according to the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office. She was arrested after she had appeared at the law enforcement center to report an unrelated complaint and a records check brought up the warrant, issued in 2005, authorities said.
She was jailed and released on a $2,000 personal recognizance bond, authorities said. The store that rented her the video and sought her arrest, Dalton Videos, is no longer in business.
Creed Hashe, chief deputy for the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, told The Greenville News that according to judges in Pickens County, it was appropriate to arrest Finley because the activity alleged in the warrant is still illegal even if the offense under which she was charged has been repealed.
“According to the judge here, she would be still held to what the law was at that time,” he said. “If you commit an act at that time that is determined to be illegal, then you are still held accountable for what happened at that time.”
Hashe said the Sheriff’s Office didn’t investigate the case. The warrant, he said, was taken out by the business, a practice that he said Pickens County judges no longer allow. He said he doesn’t know if other outstanding warrants exist that were taken out by the same video store.
Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Columbia lawyer and leader of House Democrats, said someone should have “caught” the warrant before Finley was arrested. He said South Carolina also needs a statute of limitation on old charges.
“Given the age of the warrant, whoever served it on her should have said, ‘Let me look into this,’” he said.
Rutherford said he believes deputies in Richland County would have simply issued a courtesy summons, giving the person a court date at which any representative of the business could appear and avoiding any jail or bond.
“A statute of limitations, a courtesy summons and not giving a $2,000 bond would have fixed most of these situations,” he said.
Since the store was closed, Rutherford said, Finley should have been issued a summons and taken before a judge who he said would have dismissed the charge.
Rep. Greg Delleney, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said doing something legislatively to prevent people from being arrested for crimes no longer on the books “is certainly something we would take a look at.”
He said it wasn’t the first time “something like this has happened.”
“It seems to me she would have a civil remedy,” he said of Finley. “They did have a choice. The sheriff’s department could have examined the warrant to see what it was, to see if the law was still in existence. And then if it wasn’t, they didn’t have to serve the warrant.”
Martin said video rental businesses succeeded in getting a law passed decades ago to make keeping videos a separate crime.
But he said that crime was repealed in 2010 when the Legislature passed a sentencing reform bill that cleaned up antiquated statutes.
Today, he said, if someone were to fail to return a video or similarly valued rental item, they could still be charged with a crime but it would be under a general leasing statute. And he said the economics of it would discourage businesses from trying.
“Let’s put it like this, today nobody could practically do that because it would cost a business owner more to actually get the warrant than it would to get his property back,” he said.
He also noted that few video rental stores exist any more.
Martin said he thinks the charge against Finley will be dismissed since the business is no longer in operation.
Martin said he is surprised that anyone was charged under the offense. He said the business owner signed a group of warrants at the time “because it did represent a significant amount of money to him.”
The arrest warrant states that Finley had been sent notification of the delinquency in the form of a certified letter in September 2005.
The exact value of the movie wasn’t identified in the warrant, except that its value was less than $1,000.
Finley’s court date is set for March 10, according to Pickens County court records.
Attempts to reach Finley by The Greenville News have been unsuccessful.