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2004-UP-096 - State v. Martin

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State, Respondent,

v.

Anthony Bradford Martin, Appellant.


Appeal From Richland County
L. Henry McKellar, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2004-UP-096
Submitted December 23, 2003 – Filed February 13, 2004


AFFIRMED


Deputy Chief Attorney General Joseph L. Savitz, III, Office of Appellate Defense, of Columbia, for Appellant,

Attorney General Henry D. McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Attorney General S. Creighton Waters, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Warren Blair Giese, of Columbia, for Respondent.


PER CURIAM:  Martin appeals his conviction for murder, arguing the circuit court erred in failing to let him testify at his competency hearing.  We affirm.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In July 1998, Martin was indicted for murdering his girlfriend. 

A two-day competency hearing was conducted in September 1999.  During the hearing, the State offered expert testimony from psychiatrist Steven Shea and forensic psychologist Pamela Crawford, both of whom had examined Martin and opined that he was competent to stand trial but was malingering.  Martin offered expert testimony from psychiatrist John Howard DeWitt, who opined that Martin was not competent to stand trial.  The circuit court subsequently ruled that Martin was competent to stand trial.

At the beginning of Martin’s December 1999 trial, his attorney argued that Martin’s condition had worsened since his September 1999 competency hearing, rendering him incompetent to stand trial.  The circuit court then conducted a second competency hearing, during which Dr. DeWitt again testified that Martin was incompetent to stand trial. 

Following Dr. DeWitt’s testimony, Martin’s attorney called Martin to testify.  However, Judge McKellar refused to allow Martin to testify, explaining that Martin did not “have the right to take the stand and tell us in a competency hearing that he’s not competent to stand trial.”  After a bench conference, Martin’s attorney attempted to make an offer of proof.  The circuit court refused, explaining that its decision regarding Martin’s competency must be based on expert testimony.  It also suggested that Martin’s attempt to have Martin testify was a “delaying tactic.”  The State brought no witnesses, but instead rested on the expert testimony it provided during the first hearing. 

At the conclusion of the second competency hearing, the circuit court concluded that Martin was competent to stand trial.  A jury trial followed, culminating in Martin’s conviction for murder.  This appeal follows.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

“The admission of evidence is within the circuit judge’s discretion and will not be disturbed on appeal absent abuse of that discretion.”  State v. Slocumb, 336 S.C. 619, 626-27, 521 S.E.2d 507, 511 (Ct. App. 1996).  An abuse of discretion occurs when the circuit judge’s decision is unsupported by the evidence or controlled by an error of law.   State v. Lopez, 352 S.C. 373, 378, 574 S.E.2d 210, 212 (2002).

LAW/ANALYSIS

Martin contends that the circuit court erred in refusing to allow him to testify at his own incompetency hearing on the basis that Martin’s testimony would be “biased.”  However, we find nothing in the record suggesting bias was a concern of the circuit court, much less a basis for its refusal to permit Martin to testify.  Instead, we find the circuit court based its ruling on concerns for avoiding a “delay tactic” and obtaining evidence cumulative to that provided by Martin’s own expert witness.  Martin’s attorney sought Martin’s testimony not to introduce new evidence, but rather to allow the circuit court to “have firsthand knowledge … on Anthony Martin’s response or lack of responses to those same questions [posed by the experts].”  (emphasis added).  Martin’s attorney noted the circuit court would be “better served” by allowing Martin’s testimony.

While we tend to agree with Martin’s attorney, we are not inclined to find, on this record, an abuse of discretion in refusing Martin’s testimony.  The circuit court had conducted two competency hearings.  The judge observed, “I’ve heard from Dr. Dewitt twice, I’ve heard from Dr. Crawford and Dr. Shea … I kept real good notes. And to me, it would make no sense whatsoever for you to put your defendant on the stand, for him to do the same thing he’s done to your psychiatrist for the last year, to convince me he’s not competent to stand trial ….”  (emphasis added).  Under those circumstances, where the proposed testimony was merely to provide the circuit court with a “firsthand” observation of Martin’s responses to the same questions posed by the various experts, we find that the circuit court acted within its broad discretion in refusing the testimony.

Martin’s final assignment of error is the claim that the circuit court held that its decision regarding competence could only be based on expert testimony.  It is true that the circuit court initially provided its rationale for refusing to permit Martin’s testimony on this basis, but the circuit court subsequently acknowledged that the determination of competency is not confined to expert testimony. Martin’s attorney stated, “Expert testimony is not the only testimony his Honor can consider for purposes of determining whether or not a defendant is competent to stand trial” and the circuit court responded:  “I know.”  (emphasis added).  Martin, in essence, assigns a holding to the circuit court that the circuit court rejected.  The circuit court acknowledged that a competency determination is not limited to expert testimony, but declined Martin’s testimony for the reasons discussed above.  Thus, this ground provides no basis for relief.

CONCLUSION

For the forgoing reasons, the decision of the circuit court is

AFFIRMED.

GOOLSBY, HOWARD and KITTREDGE, JJ., concur.