THE STATE OF
In The Court of Appeals
The State, Respondent,
Phillip H. Crocker, III, Appellant.
G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge
Opinion No. 4038
Heard September 13, 2005 – Filed October 31, 2005
John Dennis Delgado, and Kathrine Haggard Hudgins, both of
Columbia, for Appellant.
Attorney General Henry D. McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Senior Assistant Attorney General William Edgar Salter, III, Office of the Attorney General; and Solicitor W. Barney Giese, all of Columbia, for Respondent.
KITTREDGE, J.: Phillip H. Crocker, III, was convicted and sentenced in
Nathaniel Casey, Jr. (known as “Junior”) was murdered when he and his wife, Consuelo, met Crocker in a parking lot in
Consuelo operated a barbershop in
On November 19, 2001, Consuelo told an acquaintance, Willie Jennings, about the plan. She inquired if
The following day, November 20,
The next day, November 21, Consuelo and Junior left Dillon in their Chevrolet Tahoe between 1:00 and 2:00 in the afternoon and headed for
When the Caseys arrived in the Lowe’s parking lot, Crocker pulled in behind them, driving a dark gray station wagon with wood grain paneling. Crocker backed up his station wagon to the Casey vehicle. Crocker got out and asked Junior to help him transfer the drugs. Junior exited to help Crocker with the lifting of the marijuana, while Consuelo remained in the front seat of the vehicle.
Crocker and Junior transferred a large, blue, Tupperware-like container into the back of the Tahoe. Consuelo noticed a conversation between Junior and Crocker as the purported drugs were placed in the Casey vehicle, but she was unable to hear what was said. Crocker then pulled out a gun and shot Junior, killing him. Crocker fled the scene in his station wagon. Law enforcement responded to the crime scene.
No marijuana was found in the large container, only blankets and a sack of concrete and cinder blocks. On the blue container police found seven fingerprints belonging to Crocker’s father, Phillip H. Crocker, II. Also found in the Casey vehicle were two handguns and the $40,000 in cash.
Both Consuelo and
Prior to trial, Crocker moved to quash the indictment for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, and improper venue. The trial court declined to grant the motions, noting that at the pretrial stage, the record was “factually deprived.” The motions were renewed at the directed verdict stage and denied. Crocker also moved to suppress the items seized from his home. The trial court denied the suppression motion with respect to the marijuana and book on marijuana laws found at his residence, among other items.
The jury convicted Crocker of both charges. Crocker was sentenced to thirty years for the murder charge and five years, consecutively, on the trafficking in marijuana charge. Crocker appeals only from the drug-related conviction and sentence.
Crocker’s challenge to his trafficking in marijuana conviction is threefold: (1) since the “State failed to allege any facts to support that the defendant committed a trafficking offense in Richland County,” the trial court erred in denying his motions to quash and for directed verdict, on jurisdictional and venue grounds; (2) since the “State failed to present evidence that the [trafficking] offense was committed in Richland County,” the trial court erred in denying his directed verdict motion based on jurisdictional and venue grounds, as well as lack of evidence; and (3) the trial court erred in the admission of certain items seized from his home. We address these issues separately, although we recognize the relationship among them.
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
A. Subject matter and personal jurisdiction
“Subject matter jurisdiction is the power of a court to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings in question belong.” Pierce v. State, 338 S.C. 139, 150, 526 S.E.2d 222, 227 (2000). “The circuit court has original jurisdiction in all criminal matters except those where an inferior court is given exclusive jurisdiction.” State v. Dudley, 364 S.C. 578, 582, 614 S.E.2d 623, 625 (2005); S.C. Const. art. V, § 11 (Supp. 2004). “Circuit courts obviously have subject matter jurisdiction to try criminal matters.” State v. Gentry, 363 S.C. 93, 101, 610 S.E.2d 494, 499 (2005). Circuit courts have subject matter jurisdiction over drug trafficking charges.
“Jurisdiction of the offense charged and of the person of the accused is indispensable to a valid conviction.”
We summarily dispose of Crocker’s subject matter jurisdiction claim that the State failed to allege any facts that he committed a drug trafficking offense in Richland County, and affirm pursuant to Rule 220(b)(2), SCACR, and the above-cited authorities.
Turning to the second prong of Crocker’s jurisdictional challenge, it is generally recognized that jurisdiction over the person in a criminal case lies in the state or county where the crime was committed. 4 Wayne R. LaFave et al., Criminal Procedure § 16.4(c) (2d ed. 1999). The indictment alleged, in pertinent part, that Crocker “did in
The real thrust of Crocker’s jurisdictional arguments is that the trial court erred in not granting his directed verdict motion, because the State failed to prove any act in furtherance of a conspiracy to traffic in marijuana took place in Richland County.
As we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the State, as we must, we reject the premise of Crocker’s assertion that the conspiracy had no connection to
Were we to indulge in the fiction that the conspiracy had no nexus to
Because the trial court had jurisdiction over Crocker—subject matter and personal—the issue is whether venue was properly laid in
Crocker was charged with trafficking in marijuana in violation of section 44-53-370(e)(1)(a)(1) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2000). One manner in which the State may establish the substantive offense of trafficking in marijuana under this section is to prove that the defendant “conspire[d] to sell” ten or more pounds of marijuana. Section 44-53-370(e)(1). Thus, a defendant may be charged with trafficking under a theory of conspiracy.
A conspiracy is defined as the “combination between two or more persons for the purpose of accomplishing an unlawful object or lawful object by unlawful means.” S.C. Code Ann. § 16-17-410 (2003). “The gravamen of conspiracy is an agreement or combination.” State v. Dudley, 354 S.C. 514, 532, 581 S.E.2d 171, 181 (Ct. App. 2003), aff’d as modified, 364 S.C. 578, 614 S.E.2d 623 (2005). An overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy is not necessary to prove the crime.
“To establish the existence of a conspiracy, proof of an express agreement is not necessary, and direct evidence is not essential, but the conspiracy may be sufficiently shown by circumstantial evidence and the conduct of the parties.”
The State presented evidence that the agreement between Crocker and the Caseys was formed in
The November 21 meeting in
II. Conspiracy to Traffic in Marijuana
Crocker next claims that he was entitled to a directed verdict because the State failed to prove the existence of a conspiracy to traffic in marijuana. Crocker testified that he had no knowledge of and no involvement in the alleged agreement to traffic marijuana. Specifically, Crocker argues that because no marijuana was actually delivered to the Caseys in
Crocker asserts that no meeting of the minds can be shown because the perpetrator only pretended to set up a drug sale, but intended from the beginning to rob the Caseys. There are, to be sure, situations where a lack of an agreement is manifest and the absence of a conspiracy may be determined as a matter of law. For example, “one cannot enter into a conspiracy with another who only feigns acquiescence in a crime; such as an informer or undercover agent.” State v. Holmes, 277 S.C. 232, 233, 285 S.E.2d 353, 354 (1981). Crocker was neither an informer nor an undercover agent.
We additionally note that the law calls for an objective, rather than subjective, test in determining the existence of a conspiracy. There are sound policy reasons for using an objective standard. The drug culture is not known for attracting paragons of virtue, as courts are often presented with “drug deals gone bad,” and in any event, a subjective test favorable to a defendant would run counter to the well-established standard of review for directed verdict motions. State v. Kelsey, 331 S.C. 50, 62, 502 S.E.2d 63, 69 (1998) (holding that on a directed verdict motion in a criminal case, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the State). For purposes of the trial court’s resolution of the directed verdict motion, the evidence, when viewed objectively in the proper light, created a jury question as to the existence of the claimed drug conspiracy.
We find direct evidence of the conspiracy in the testimony of Consuelo and
We finally note that Crocker never testified that he planned to rob the Caseys at trial, but instead denied any connection with the transaction. Although the evidence indicates that at some point Crocker decided to withdraw from the marijuana conspiracy and to double-cross the Caseys, the crime of conspiracy was complete at the time the agreement was made. See State v. Woods, 189 S.C. 281, 287-88, 1 S.E.2d 190, 193-94 (1939) (stating that a conspirator seeking to withdraw must affirmatively communicate this intention to his associates); see also State v. Gunn, 313 S.C. 124, 135, 437 S.E.2d 75, 81 (1993) (holding that certain defendants withdrew by communicating their intent to do so to all co-conspirators). The record here is devoid of any suggestion that the perpetrator communicated an intent to withdraw from the conspiracy to
III. Motion to Suppress
Crocker’s final argument is that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the marijuana brick and book on marijuana laws found at his residence. We disagree.
“The admission or exclusion of evidence is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial court and absent clear abuse, will not be disturbed on appeal.” Gamble v. Int’l Paper Realty Corp. of S.C., 323 S.C. 367, 373, 474 S.E.2d 438, 441 (1996). To warrant reversal, an appellant must show both error and resulting prejudice. Recco Tape & Label Co., Inc. v. Barfield, 312 S.C. 214, 216, 439 S.E.2d 838, 840 (1994). “[E]vidence is relevant if it has a direct bearing upon and tends to establish or make more or less probable the matter in controversy.” State v. Staten, 364 S.C. 7, 36-37, 610 S.E.2d 823, 838 (Ct. App. 2005); Rule 401, SCRE. “Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.” State v. Shuler, 353 S.C. 176, 184, 577 S.E.2d 438, 442 (2003); Rule 403, SCRE.
Here, the marijuana and the book on marijuana laws were relevant to establish the nature of the conspiracy. As discussed above, the marijuana was in brick form, indicating intended use in volume sale, not personal consumption. The book on marijuana laws also had some probative value as to the trafficking charge. We cannot say the danger of unfair prejudice from the evidence substantially outweighed its probative value. We thus find no abuse of discretion in the admission of this evidence.
We reject Crocker’s various challenges to the marijuana trafficking conviction and sentence. We hold that all of Crocker’s motions attacking jurisdiction and venue were properly denied. We further hold that sufficient evidence existed that Crocker entered into a conspiracy to sell marijuana to survive his motion for a directed verdict on the trafficking charge. Finally, the trial court acted within its discretion in the admission of the challenged evidence.
HEARN, C.J., and STILWELL, J., concur.
 In challenging the admission of evidence seized from his
 Crocker’s view that the purported drug deal was never intended—and the perpetrator secretly planned all along to rob the Caseys—is interesting in light of his testimony that he had no involvement in these crimes and was not present in Dillon on November 20, 2001. We decline to accept Crocker’s self-serving version of the perpetrator’s undisclosed secret intentions, especially when on appeal from the denial of a directed verdict we are required to view the evidence in a light most favorable to the State. If Crocker’s argument were adopted as framed, we would be creating a complete defense to a conspiracy charge that would entitle a defendant to a directed verdict on the mere self-serving contention that he (or the perpetrator) never intended to complete the drug transaction. A defendant like Crocker may advance such an argument, and a jury may accept the argument that there was no agreement in the first instance and acquit on the conspiracy charge. But Crocker asks us to rule in his favor on this issue as a matter of law. The presence of evidence in support of the indicted conspiracy offense precludes the direction of a verdict. And the law is contrary to Crocker’s position, for a conspiracy may be proven by circumstantial evidence and conduct—objectively viewed—of the parties. State v. Buckmon, 347 S.C. 316, 323, 555 S.E.2d 402, 405 (2001). These are factual matters for a jury, not the court, to settle.