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2005-UP-423 - State v. Reese
THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT
BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING
EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State,        Respondent,

v.

Christopher James Reese,        Appellant.


Appeal From Richland County
G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2005-UP-423
Submitted June 1, 2005 – Filed June 27, 2005


AFFIRMED


Acting Deputy Chief Attorney Wanda H. Carter, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry D. McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Assistant Attorney General W. Rutledge Martin, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Warren Blair Giese, of Columbia, for Respondent.


PER CURIAM:  Christopher James Reese appeals from his convictions for armed robbery, two counts of carjacking, two counts of assault with intent to kill, and one count of possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a violent crime.  Reese raises two issues on appeal.  First, he argues the trial court erred in admitting statements he made to police following his arrest.  Second, Reese argues the trial court erred in refusing to grant a continuance. We affirm.

FACTS

Reese robbed a bank in Richland County in December of 2000, while armed with a pistol.  Multiple eyewitnesses saw Reese from the time he entered the bank until he was placed under arrest.  A security video camera also recorded the bank robbery.  Reese did not wear a mask or anything to hide his identity. 

Upon entering the bank lobby, Reese drew a pistol, and demanded that the teller fill his bag with money.  The first teller complied, but Reese was unsatisfied with the amount, so he demanded another teller to put money in the bag.  Reese’s demeanor was initially calm, but when another teller walked in from the back he became nervous and agitated.  When the additional money was placed into the bag, one of the tellers put a dye pack into the bag with the money.  Approximately $5,000 was taken.  Reese then turned and ran out the front door with the bag of money. 

Other eyewitnesses saw Reese flee through the parking lot with the bag.  Reese ran into a church parking lot and tried to get into a white SUV waiting there.  One of the tellers at the bank drive-through window had noticed a white SUV parked in front of the bank shortly before Reese entered.  The vehicle drove away before Reese could get inside, and Reese fell back into the parking lot, still holding the bag.

After several unsuccessful carjacking attempts, Reese pointed his gun at the driver of a pick-up truck entering a grocery store parking lot.  The driver and his fellow passengers jumped out of the truck and yielded to Reese’s threats.  Reese got in the pick-up truck and exited the parking lot. 

A police officer arrived on the scene and one of the men that had been in the truck pointed to Reese as he was pulling back out onto the highway.  The officer activated her emergency lights and siren and pursued the truck Reese had carjacked.  During the high speed chase, he stuck his hand out the window and fired several shots at the pursuing officer.  Reese also shot twice at another officer he encountered during the chase. 

Reese eventually lost control of the truck and crashed.  Reese was arrested, and the gun was retrieved from the scene.  One of the officers asked Reese for identification, and he told her he did not have it with him in case he was caught.  

Another police officer arrived shortly after the accident and talked to Reese before he was placed into the ambulance.  At that time, Reese appeared shaken up, but coherent and able to communicate.  However, a paramedic testified that Reese became very combative and uncooperative in the ambulance.  The paramedic reported that Reese said things that were illogical.  On cross-examination, the paramedic testified that it was not unusual for suspects in similar situations to become combative and resist after they are restrained, and to voice their displeasure.  The paramedic was able to get Reese’s name, social security number, and date of birth from him, and passed this information along to police.

The investigating officer followed the ambulance to the hospital and went with Reese into the emergency room.  They arrived at the hospital at about 4:30 p.m.  The officer again found Reese responsive and coherent.  At that time Reese was under arrest and restrained with handcuffs. 

At approximately 4:50 p.m. Reese was given 25 mg of Phenergan, a sedating medication.  Phenergan generally does not alter memory, but can cause drowsiness.

The officer read Reese read his Miranda[1] rights at about 5:10 p.m. and took an oral statement shortly thereafter.  Reese was excited but communicative during the interview.  The officer testified that during the interview, Reese responded appropriately to his questions, knew what the officer was talking about, and gave intelligent and rational responses.  According to the officer, Reese understood the Miranda warnings and, of his own volition, agreed to speak with the officer.  The officer did not threaten or coerce Reese in any way and did not promise him anything. 

Reese then told the officer he met the driver of the getaway vehicle at a crack house in Greenview.  He identified the driver as “Peanut” and said Peanut had loaned Reese the pistol.  He admitted to the carjackings and remembered shooting a gun.  He also said Peanut knew Reese was going to rob something but did not know what.  Reese told the officer he “was just trying to get away because he didn’t want to go back to prison.”  Reese said he lived for three things: money, sex, and cocaine.  Reese also gave some background details about himself, his girlfriend, and the driver of the getaway vehicle.

Reese told the officer that he had been diagnosed as “anti-social” and had been prescribed Haldol, an anti-psychotic drug.  Reese stated he was not taking the prescribed drug because of the side effects. 

At about 6:00 p.m. Reese was given an injection of 2 mg of Versed.  Versed is a potent, fast-acting benzodiazepine that would cause sedation and amnesia for one to three hours.  The medication was administered so that certain medical procedures and tests could be performed.

Another officer picked Reese up from the hospital at about 10:45 that evening.  The charge nurse said Reese was fit to be physically transported to the jail.  Reese walked out of the hospital with the officer.  They arrived at the Sheriff’s department about ten minutes later.

The officer advised Reese of his Miranda rights around 11:00 p.m.  At that time Reese appeared responsive and coherent.  Reese acknowledged that he understood his rights and signed a waiver without any promises, threats, or coercion from the officer.  The officer then took a second statement from Reese.  Reese’s demeanor during the interview was calm and cooperative.  Reese did not appear confused.  The officer wrote down what Reese said, and Reese signed it after reviewing it.  The officer testified that he had prior experience interviewing people with mental problems and he saw nothing to indicate Reese was suffering any kinds of symptoms at the time the statement was taken. 

This statement also included several self-incriminating statements.  Reese said he was with an acquaintance—identified as Peanut—who supplied Reese with a $20 bag of cocaine. According to Reese, Peanut was on his way to Charlotte, but he dropped Reese off at the bank.  Reese admitted he grabbed Peanut’s gun out of the glove compartment and held up the bank.  Reese said some “Mexican dudes” gave him the truck.  Reese also admitted to firing the gun at the officers. 

The following day, the officer who had taken the first statement from Reese in the emergency room saw Reese again.  Police were still trying to identify the driver of the getaway car.  The officer picked Reese up from the detention center and drove him to the Greenview area.  Once again, Reese was read, and appeared to understand, his Miranda rights.  His mood was calmer than the day before, and somewhat somber.  They drove around looking for Peanut’s house, but Reese was unable to identify it.

When they returned to the Sheriff’s office, the officer read Reese his Miranda rights again.  Reese again appeared to understand, and signed another waiver.  Reese then gave a third statement to the police.  The content of this statement was substantially consistent with the first two statements. 

Reese moved prior to trial to exclude all his statements to the police on the ground that they were not voluntary.  Donna Schwartz-Watts, a forensic psychiatrist who testified as an expert witness on Reese’s behalf, testified Reese was suffering from a major mental illness on the date of the crime.   She also believed Reese was suicidal at that time. 

Dr. William A. Morton, Jr. also testified that certain medications Reese took at the hospital might have affected his thinking.  Dr. Morton noted that Reese was in four-point restraints and handcuffed when the officer took the first statement in the emergency room.  Reese was administered Phenergan about twenty minutes before that statement was taken.  Additionally, Reese was given Versed about five hours before the second statement was taken.  Dr. Morton opined that a person’s ability to make an important decision (whether to give a statement to police, for example) could be impaired after receiving the medications.  Upon inquiry by the trial judge, Dr. Morton clarified that this level of impairment lasted about three hours after administration of Versed.  However, he stated that the half-life of Versed is two to five hours. 

Reese’s history of mental problems began shortly after he was committed to the Department of Corrections in 1991.  He was diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia and was admitted to the psychiatric hospital seven times in eight years.  When the time came for Reese to be released, the director of Mental Health Services insisted that he be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital because he was believed to be a danger to himself or others.  Out of about one thousand inmates released from the Department of Corrections per year, Mental Health Services insists on involuntary commitment in only 12 to 15 cases. 

At his first competency hearing in December of 2001, the experts agreed Reese was not competent to stand trial.  Reese remained in an extremely psychotic and disorganized state throughout 2002.  Dr. Schwartz-Watts diagnosed Reese with paranoid schizophrenia.  She based her conclusion on her observations and medical records indicating Reese experienced hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.  These symptoms included Reese hearing voices, seeing things that are not real, and exhibiting bizarre behavior. 

At the time of trial, Dr. Schwartz-Watts and the court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Pratap Narayan, agreed Reese was competent to stand trial.  However, they disagreed about his criminal responsibility on the date of the crime. 

Dr. Narayan evaluated Reese on October 12, 2001 and October 30, 2002 and concluded Reese had the ability to differentiate right from wrong and the capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law at the time of the alleged offense.

 Prior to the March 2003 trial, counsel for Reese also moved for a continuance because Reese was not able to discuss anything in a coherent manner until February of 2003, about a month before trial.  Dr. Schwartz-Watts believed Reese could be found guilty but mentally ill, but indicated further she was unable to form an opinion on Reese’s criminal responsibility because the difficulty in interviewing Reese.  Dr. Schwartz-Watts told the trial judge she needed two more weeks to make the determination.  However, she was unable to provide assurance that the determination could be made within that time frame.  Another of Reese’s experts, Dr. Ellen Berg, also testified she was unable to make a determination about his criminal responsibility and agreed that two more weeks might be helpful. 

The State opposed the motion for a continuance, noting the prior delays and taking the position that Reese could be made available every day until and continuing through the term of the trial.  The State pointed out that the parties had met and scheduled the case in January of 2003.  The trial judge denied the motion for a continuance, but required the State to make Reese available for further assessment as discussed. 

At trial, Dr. Schwartz-Watts testified she was unable to form an opinion as to whether Reese was not guilty by reason of insanity.  She opined that Reese was experiencing delusions on the day of the crime.  She testified that the delusion caused Reese to believe he was possessed by a demon, and that only death by the bullet of a police officer would get rid of it.  She further testified that influences from movies and rap stars had played into his command hallucinations and religious delusions.  However, she admitted that Reese understood it is wrong to rob a bank.  Dr. Schwartz-Watts also testified that Reese has periods of rational thinking, but noted that a person with schizophrenia may appear rational when they in fact are not. 

Dr. Narayan also testified at trial.  Dr. Narayan opined that the mere fact that a person is suffering from a major mental illness does not exempt them from being held responsible for a crime.  He testified as to his conclusion that Reese was criminally responsible for his actions.  Dr. Narayan based his conclusion on two statements made to police: (1) Reese told the arresting officer that he was not carrying identification because he knew he might be caught; and (2) Reese told another officer that he eluded police because he did not want to go back to prison.  Dr. Narayan’s report noted that Reese’s statements also established a motive for the crime—to get money to buy more cocaine.  He testified that although Reese had expressed suicidal ideation, he had never been known to attempt suicide.  He further saw no evidence that Reese was under the influence of a hallucination or a delusion on the date of the crime. 

Counsel for Reese renewed the motion for a continuance after trial.  The trial judge denied the motion.  The jury found Reese guilty of the various charges and, on appeal, he challenges the admission of his statements to the police and the denial of his motion for a continuance. 

LAW/ANALYSIS

I.       Voluntariness of the Confession

Reese first asserts that the statements he made to the police must be suppressed because they were not voluntary.  He maintains the statements were involuntary because he was suffering from a mental condition, and because he was under the influence of medications administered at the hospital when they were made.  We find evidence supporting the trial court’s admission of the statements.  See State v. Myers, 359 S.C. 40, 47, 596 S.E.2d 488, 492 (2004) (“On appeal, the trial judge’s ruling as to the voluntariness of the confession will not be disturbed unless so erroneous as to constitute an abuse of discretion.”). 

Under state law, the determination of voluntariness requires an examination of the totality of the circumstances, including the background, experience, and conduct of the accused.  State v. Franklin, 299 S.C. 133, 138, 382 S.E.2d 911, 914 (1989).  Voluntariness must be proved by the State by a preponderance of the evidence.  Id. at 137, 382 S.E.2d at 913.  A confession is not inadmissible because of a mental deficiency alone.  State v. Hughes, 336 S.C. 585, 594, 521 S.E.2d 500, 505 (1999).  Furthermore, the fact that a defendant was under medication and in restraints at the time the statement was taken is not determinative, but is only a circumstance to consider in determining voluntariness.  State v. White, 311 S.C. 289, 294-95, 428 S.E.2d 740, 743 (Ct. App. 1993)

The trial court found no credible evidence of police coercion, and the record supports this finding.  Therefore, Reese’s mental condition alone does not compel a finding of involuntariness.

The officers uniformly testified that Reese appeared coherent and cooperative when each of the statements was taken.  The questioning began only after Reese was given his Miranda warnings.  There was no evidence of confusion or irrationality, and his answers were responsive to the questions asked.  See Id., 311 S.C. at 294, 428 S.E.2d at 743 (finding a statement voluntary when the defendant was under medication and in restraints, but was responsive and gave coherent answers to questions).  In this regard, the record reveals consistency among the statements and with the testimony of other witnesses.  Although Reese suffers from chronic schizophrenia, a thought disorder, there was testimony that he has periods of rationality. 

We do recognize that Reese made the initial statements after being administered medications at the hospital.  However, Reese gave the third statement the next day, free from the effects of the medication.  The content of the third statement was substantially consistent with the previous statements.  Additionally, the first statement was made before Reese was given the Versed.  Reese’s expert admitted that Phenergan alone does not alter memory. 

The second statement was taken after Reese returned from the hospital, five hours after he took the Versed.  Again, however, Reese appeared alert and coherent, and the content of what he said was rational and consistent.  The evidence indicates the drug’s influence would have been strongest from two to five hours after he took the drug.  The statement was taken outside of this window.  Thus, there is evidence to support the finding that neither Reese’s mental disorder nor the medications were sufficient to render his statements involuntary. 

Finally, even if the statements were involuntary, the error was harmless.  “When guilt has been conclusively proven by competent evidence such that no other rational conclusion can be reached, the Court should not set aside a conviction because of insubstantial errors not affecting the result.”  State v. Bailey, 298 S.C. 1, 5, 377 S.E.2d 581, 584 (1989).  The evidence of guilt was overwhelming in this case.  No circumstantial evidence was needed because multiple eyewitnesses testified to all the events for which Reese is charged.  The police officers testified that the purpose of the statements was to apprehend Reese’s accomplice because no further evidence against Reese was needed.  Therefore, because guilt could be proven even without the statements, any error in admitting them was harmless. 

II.      Motion for a Continuance

Reese next argues the trial court erred in refusing to grant a continuance to allow his experts time to reach a definite conclusion as to his criminal responsibility.  We disagree. 

“The granting of a motion for a continuance is a matter resting in the trial judge’s sound discretion and his ruling will not be disturbed without a clear showing of an abuse of discretion.”  White, 311 S.C. at 293, 428 S.E.2d at 742.

Here, the court-appointed expert determined that Reese was not insane when he committed the crimes.  Reese requested a continuance because his experts desired more time to evaluate him.  However, she could not guarantee a more definite opinion.  We find no abuse of discretion in denying the request for a continuance.  See State v. Lewis, 328 S.C. 273, 279, 494 S.E.2d 115, 118 (1997) (holding that the defendant’s standoff with police evidenced his sanity, even though there was evidence the defendant was “out of his mind” and severely depressed).

CONCLUSION

We hold that the trial court acted within its discretion in admitting Reese’s statements and denying his motion for a continuance. 

AFFIRMED.

GOOLSBY, HUFF, and KITTREDGE, JJ., concur.


[1]        Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966).