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2007-UP-396 - State v. Morgan

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.

Daron Morgan, Appellant.


Appeal From Beaufort County
Howard P. King, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2007-UP-396
Submitted September 1, 2007 – Filed September 25, 2007


AFFIRMED


Chief Attorney Joseph L. Savitz, III, of Columbia, for Appellant. 

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Special Assistant Attorney General Amie L. Clifford, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Isaac McDuffie Stone, III, of Hampton, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  Daron Morgan appeals the trial court’s denial of his motion for mistrial.  We affirm.[1]

FACTS

Morgan was convicted of the common law offense of escape.  Testimony at trial revealed that police officers received a call regarding a possible burglary at a residence.  Police proceeded to the scene where they found the back door of the residence partially open.  After announcing themselves and receiving no response, the officers entered the residence.  Inside, they discovered Morgan and another man sleeping and a substance that appeared to be marijuana in a nearby bowl.  The two were placed under arrest, but as they were leaving the scene, the arresting officer was distracted by a disturbance, and Morgan “snatched away” and ran. 

Later, Morgan was arrested by a different officer, Jeff Purdy, at a nearby home.  He was found hiding under the kitchen sink.  When apprehended, Morgan indicated the police would never find the missing handcuffs.  

At trial, Morgan made a motion in limine seeking to suppress the introduction of any evidence related to his subsequent arrest after his escape. He argued that the circumstances of that arrest and any statements he made were irrelevant and prejudicial.  The trial court granted Morgan’s request in part. 

[W]ith regard to the circumstances surrounding the arrest, I think it is [of] very questionable relevance.  But even if relevant . . . the prejudicial effect outweighs the probative value and so I would not permit the testimony surrounding the circumstances of his arrest other than to say that he was later located on such and such a day at such and such a location and placed under arrest for escape.  That would be the extent of the testimony that would be allowed there, not with regard to all the other circumstances.

On direct examination, Officer Purdy testified that Morgan was discovered “hiding under the kitchen sink.”  Defense counsel moved for a mistrial, but the trial court denied the motion reasoning that the literal interpretation of its ruling was followed although the spirit of the ruling was violated.  The trial court gave a curative instruction telling the jury to disregard any testimony concerning Morgan hiding under the sink. 

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The decision to grant or deny a motion for mistrial is in the sound discretion of the trial judge.  State v. Beckham, 334 S.C. 302, 310, 513 S.E.2d 606, 610 (1999).  That decision will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.  Id.

LAW/ANALYSIS

Morgan argues the trial court erred in denying his motion for mistrial.  He contends the solicitor’s intention to obey or disobey the court’s ruling is irrelevant.  Instead, the prejudice to the defendant is the paramount consideration.  We agree, but conclude that there was no prejudice to Morgan.

The motion in limine pointed to several things the defense wanted to exclude from testimony.  The trial court’s ruling restricted admission of the “circumstances” surrounding Morgan’s second arrest, but approved testimony regarding the date and location of his arrest.  Both the motion in limine and the trial court’s ruling are somewhat ambiguous and subject to misinterpretation.  The trial court recognized as much in acknowledging that Officer Purdy’s testimony was technically proper because it was limited to the location.  Notably, Officer Purdy did not testify regarding any statements made by Morgan upon his apprehension.

After denying Morgan’s motion for mistrial, the court offered a curative instruction telling the jury to “disregard any testimony that the defendant was found, quote, hiding under the sink.  That issue is not relevant to any issue in this case and I instruct you to disregard and dismiss that from your mind, as I am striking that testimony from the testimony in this case.”  “Generally, a trial judge’s curative instruction is deemed to cure any error.”  State v. Simmons, 352 S.C. 342, 354, 573 S.E.2d 856, 863 (Ct. App. 2002).  We see no special circumstances in this case whereby the curative instruction was not effective to remove any taint Officer Purdy’s testimony may have caused.

Based on the foregoing, we cannot conclude the trial court abused its discretion in denying Morgan’s motion for mistrial.  Therefore the ruling of the trial court is

AFFIRMED.

STILWELL, SHORT, and WILLIAMS, JJ., concur.


[1]  We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.