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2004-UP-063 - State v. Tyler

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State, Respondent,

v.

Morris Tyler, Appellant.


Appeal From Aiken County
 William P. Keesley, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2004-UP-063
Submitted January 12, 2004 – Filed February 4, 2004


AFFIRMED


Brian Austin Katonak, of Aiken, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Charles H. Richardson, Assistant Attorney General Deborah R. J. Shupe, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Barbara R. Morgan, of Aiken, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  Morris Tyler was convicted of four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor.  On appeal, he asserts the circuit court erred in quashing a subpoena he served on the Department of Social Services (DSS) and in failing to grant his motion for a directed verdict.  We affirm.

FACTS

In May 2001, Tyler was indicted on four charges of second-degree CSC with a minor occurring in August and November 2000.  The victim of these crimes was a family member (“the victim”).  As part of his defense, Tyler issued a subpoena to DSS seeking “all documents and records” regarding the victim.  DSS moved to quash the subpoena, contending disclosure of the requested records was prohibited under South Carolina law. 

During a hearing on the matter on January 11, 2002, DSS informed the circuit court that the only file regarding the victim was opened against the victim’s mother for possible neglect, but it was determined to be a Category I “unfounded” case.  DSS also indicated that, but for agency delay, the file already would have been destroyed in accordance with statutory procedures.  The circuit court quashed the subpoena, ruling the applicable statutes barred disclosure of the records because Tyler was not the subject of the DSS investigation. 

A jury trial was subsequently held on the four CSC counts.  Tyler was convicted as charged and sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

LAW/ANALYSIS

I.  Subpoena for DSS File

Tyler contends the circuit court erred in quashing the subpoena because he was entitled to the DSS file even if he was not the subject of the investigation; moreover, he asserts the court’s failure to conduct an in camera review of the file violated his due process rights.  We disagree.

The South Carolina Code sets forth procedures for handling reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. [1]   Section 20-7-650 requires DSS to investigate a report of suspected child abuse or neglect to determine whether the report is “indicated” or “unfounded.”  S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-650(C) (Supp. 2001).  All “unfounded” cases must be classified as either Category I, II, or III.  Id. § 20-7-650(G).  Category I represents unfounded reports “in which abuse and neglect were ruled out following the investigation.”  Id. § 20-7-650(G)(1). 

The file that Tyler wanted was determined to be a Category I unfounded report, the disclosure of which is governed by section 20-7-695, which provides in relevant part as follows:

(B)  The alleged perpetrator in an unfounded report who has reason to believe that the report was made maliciously or in bad faith has the right to request in writing that records of the report be retained by the department for up to two years from the date of the case decision.  The written request must be received by the department within thirty days of the person’s receiving notice of the case decision.  A person exercising this right may request a copy of the record of the unfounded case and the department shall provide a copy of the record . . . .

. . . .

(D)  An alleged perpetrator in an unfounded case who believes the report was made maliciously or in bad faith may petition the family court to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the reporter acted maliciously or in bad faith.  The court shall determine probable cause based on an in camera review of the case record and oral or written argument, or both.  If the court finds probable cause, the identity of the reporter must be disclosed to the moving party.

(E)  Notwithstanding other provisions of the law affecting confidentiality of child protective services records and use and disclosure of records of unfounded cases, a court conducting civil or criminal proceedings resulting from disclosures authorized by this section may order the department to release the record to any party to the case or to law enforcement.

Id. § 20-7-695 (emphasis added).

Based on the foregoing, it is clear that the file of an unfounded report may be released only to the alleged perpetrator who is the subject of the investigation.  In this case, the subject of the investigation was the victim’s mother, not Tyler.  Thus, in the absence of a written request from her, the file could not be disclosed.  An in camera review of the report by the family court would have been necessary only if the subject of the report had timely sought a determination of probable cause.  See id. § 20-7-695(D). 

Further, Tyler is not entitled to the file under section 20-7-695(E) because the criminal proceeding against him did not result “from disclosures authorized by this section.”  Rather, the criminal charges resulted from law enforcement’s investigation of his conduct.  The proceedings referred to in section 20-7-695(E) concern those initiated by the subject of an unfounded report who believes the original report was made maliciously or in bad faith.  Accordingly, the circuit court did not err in quashing the subpoena.

II.  Directed Verdict

Tyler next contends the circuit court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict.  We disagree.

A defendant is entitled to a directed verdict when the State fails to present evidence of all of the elements of a criminal offense.  See, e.g., State v. McHoney, 344 S.C. 85, 544 S.E.2d 30 (2001).  In ruling on a directed verdict motion, the trial court is concerned only with the existence of evidence, not its weight.  State v. Gaster, 349 S.C. 545, 564 S.E.2d 87 (2002). 

On appeal from the denial of a directed verdict motion, an appellate court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, and if there is any direct evidence or any substantial circumstantial evidence reasonably tending to prove the guilt of the accused, we must find the matter was properly presented to a jury.  McHoney, 344 S.C. at 97, 544 S.E.2d at 36.

In the current case, the victim testified in detail regarding the four incidents of sexual molestation.  Moreover, her testimony was corroborated by the testimony of her mother, school officials, a desk clerk from the hotel where Tyler took the victim, and an investigating officer from the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.

Tyler improperly asks us to evaluate the weight of the evidence presented at trial, which is not the proper standard for submission of the matter to the jury.  We hold the circuit court properly found there was sufficient evidence to create a jury question as to Tyler’s guilt or innocence.  Consequently, the circuit court committed no error in denying Tyler’s motion for a directed verdict.

AFFIRMED.

GOOLSBY and ANDERSON, JJ., and CURETON, A.J., concur.


[1]   Citations are to the statutes in effect at the time of the hearing since the legislature subsequently amended some of these provisions.  See 2002 Act No. 325, § 5, effective June 7, 2002.  The amendments do not affect our result.