Updates on the Video-Rental Crime of the Century

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Here are a couple of updates on the saga of Monster-In-Law-video-keeper Kayla Finley. See "Woman Arrested Nine Years After Failing to Return Rented Video," Lowering the Bar (Feb. 17, 2014).

First, criminal-defense attorney David Liebow points out that even though South Carolina doesn't have a statute of limitations for almost any crime (which still boggles my mind), Finley is probably still off the hook because of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

In Doggett v. United States, for example, at least eight years passed between the indictment and defendant's arrest.

Comedy note: Doggett was indicted for conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine, but an attempt to arrest him failed because he wasn't home. The visit wasn't a total waste of time, though, because "[h]is mother told the officers that he had left for Colombia four days earlier." Thanks, Mom!

Whether a trial would be "speedy" depends mainly on (1) the length of the delay, (2) whether the State or the defendant is responsible for it, and (3) whether it prejudiced (harmed) the defendant. In Doggett's case, it took the government eight years to find him (strike one), despite his mom's helpful tip and the fact that he came back to the U.S. after two years and wasn't hiding. The Supreme Court decided it just hadn't tried very hard (strike two). The Court then held that prejudice can be presumed if the delay is "excessive" (strike three, unless the government could rebut the presumption).

In Finley's case, we have a nine-year delay (strike one). Seems fair to call that "excessive" and so presumptively prejudicial (strike two). There may be an issue as to whether Finley knew about the warrant back in the day, but I have a hard time seeing a court blaming her for the delay in getting herself to trial on video-keeping charges. She, too, was not hiding; I mean, she walked into the goddamn police station to report a (different) crime. So most likely, strike three.

Second update: amazingly skilled researcher Al Petrofsky found that not only does the rental store Finley victimized no longer exist, neither does the crime she committed. I thought Finley was charged with violating section 16-13-420, which criminalizes a failure to return rental property within 72 hours. The reports weren't clear, and the glimpse of the warrant in the video clip doesn't show the last number of the section. I assumed it was 16-13-420, which does fit.

But the charge was actually 16-13-425, "Failure to return a video[tape] or cassette tape." This was repealed in 2010, most likely because the Assembly had learned that nobody had rented one of those in years.

Second comedy note: This was one of several South Carolina statutes that prohibit larceny of very specific items that would be covered by more general laws anyway. Most of them are still on the books, such as 16-13-100, "stealing crude turpentine." (Sub-comedy-note book plug: I mentioned a similar North Carolina statute in my book at p. 197, "The Larceny of Ginseng.") Other things you specifically can't steal in South Carolina: dogs, canoes, bicycles, purses, timber, electricity, and gasoline. Yet another statute says not to drive away without paying for gas, so that too.

The repeal doesn't help Kayla Finley, though, because the bill provided that existing cases under that law were not to be affected by the repeal. Of course, it wouldn't have helped her anyway, because she could still have been prosecuted under 16-13-420, demonstrating why the video/cassette law was unnecessary to begin with.

Interestingly, a subsection of the old law provided for a sentence of up to ten years for anyone who failed to return tapes worth a total of "five thousand dollars or more." Anyone hoarding that many tapes probably needed help, not jail time.