South Carolina Men Appeal February Guilty Verdict in Circuit Court

Six months ago, the unexpected verdict came down. After the five men were tried in a Mount Pleasant, South Carolina court for holding a poker game but breaking a law from 1802, Judge J. Lawrence Duffy agreed with the premise of the defense attorney’s argument that poker was a game of skill. But since the law made it illegal to play “any game with cards or dice,” the decision was a reluctant but distinct guilty verdict. An appeal was promised.

By August of 2009, the defendants were in the midst of their appeal. Robert Chimento, Jeremy Bristel, Michael Williamson, Scott Richards, and John Willis began their journey through the South Carolina court system when they gathered in April of 2006 for a home poker game and experienced a police raid. Instead of accepting the issuance of fines, the five men chose to fight the outdated and unreasonable law in court, a battle that came to a head in February of 2009 with the aforementioned guilty verdict. With defense attorney Jeff Phillips and the Poker Players Alliance legal team in complete support of their cause, and the judge admitting that poker was not a game of skill but lacked any precedent to be distinguished from gambling, the appeal process began immediately.

In circuit court on August 5, Phillips again challenged the 1802 law. Under the argument that the law defines a “house of gambling” loosely, Phillips went after the law. “If an essential element of a crime is not defined, then how could a person know if they are violating it or not?” he asked after the hearing. The state attorney general’s argument that the loosely interpreted law puts poker in a games-of-chance category and therefore constitutes the game as gambling and illegal, actually fed into Phillips’ case better than expected, as the lower court judge clearly stated that poker was a game of skill.

With all eyes on the case in the hopes of overturning an antiquated law that does not apply to modern day society, arguments have been made and Circuit Court Judge Markley Dennis is set to render a ruling on the appeal in the coming weeks.

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