A violation of constitutional rights?

By Lia

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The Charleston County coroner says she followed everything by the books in the inquest that led to the arrest of a babysitter in the death of 2-year-old Ginny Hughes.

Coroner Rae Wooten issued the following statement:

"The procedures followed for the inquest into Ginny Hughes' death is the procedure prescribed by state law and followed for well over 150 years, in South Carolina, and in the end the evidence was abundantly clear that the child's death occurred unlawfully at the hands of another person. The ultimate decision as to criminal liability is a determination to be made in a court of law also provided for by state law."

Her statement is in response to Alicia Stepp's attorney, who argues that her legal rights were violated.

"At the hearing she was forced to testify. She wasn't provided her Miranda rights against self-incrimination," David Aylor said.

Stepp is being held on $100,000 bond. She was charged with homicide by child abuse after a jury at the inquest found her responsible for Ginny's Hughes death.

"The reason the arrest warrant issued that was due to the fact that my client was forced to speak under subpoena and that's where the issue really in lies in regards to the constitutional violation," he said.

In a coroner's inquest, every witness is subpoenaed and must testify or be held in contempt of court.

Debra Gammons is a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at the Charleston School of Law. She says it is up to the witness know their rights.

"There is no indication on the subpoena that you have the constitutional right not to testify," she said. "One is presumed to know the law in the United States. A citizen is to know the rights against self-incrimination."

By law, the coroner is required to set bond in this situation. Once that is done her duties are fulfilled. It is up to the prosecutor whether or not to proceed criminally.

"It may gain some sympathy that she didn't know," Gammons said. "That this woman giving testimony does not know and simply just talked and stated what she thought was the truth."

Aylor says his goal is get Stepp's bond lowered.



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