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2008-UP-521 - State v. Sheriff

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.

Alex Claude Sheriff, Appellant.


Appeal from Edgefield County
 Diane Schafer Goodstein, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2008-UP-521
Submitted September 2, 2008 – Filed September 9, 2008   


AFFIRMED


Appellate Defender Robert M. Pachak, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, Assistant Attorney General Christina J. Catoe, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Donald V. Myers, of Lexington, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  Alex Claude Sheriff, appeals his convictions for possession of contraband, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and criminal conspiracy.  Sheriff argues the trial court erred in not allowing him to introduce evidence of his prior guilty pleas. We affirm.[1]

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Sheriff was a prisoner at Trenton Correctional Institution in Edgefield.  He was working on a road crew assisting with maintenance of an area park.  The contraband officer for the prison had received information that the road crew was bringing drugs into the prison, so he went out to search the park.  The officer discovered a brown bag containing marijuana and cocaine stuffed between the wall and the sink in the men’s bathroom. The officer replaced the package with a decoy package and observed the road crew on its next assignment at the park.  Sheriff and another inmate, Herbert Jones, walked directly to the bathroom, and officers found the decoy package stuffed inside Jones’s boot.  Jones testified that he and Sheriff were in on the plan together.  Sheriff eventually told the officers that he was involved with bringing the drugs into the prison. 

STANDARD OF REVIEW

“The admission or exclusion of evidence is a matter addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court[,] and its ruling will not be disturbed in the absence of a manifest abuse of discretion accompanied by probable prejudice.”  State v. Douglas, 369 S.C. 424, 429, 632 S.E.2d 845, 847-48 (2006).

LAW/ANALYSIS

On appeal, Sheriff argues the trial court erred in not allowing him to introduce evidence of his prior guilty pleas to various criminal charges. The defense hoped to offer the evidence to show that Sheriff had pled guilty on previous occasions and therefore, if he was guilty of the present charges, would have pled guilty as well.[2]  The trial court did not allow the proffered testimony regarding the disposition of the previous charges, because it would improperly bolster his credibility. 

According to Rule 608(b) of the South Carolina Rules of Evidence, “[s]pecific instances of the conduct of a witness, for the purpose of attacking or supporting the witness’[s] credibility, other than conviction of crime as provided in Rule 609, may not be proved by extrinsic evidence.”  (emphasis added).  The evidence may be introduced on cross-examination if probative of truthfulness or untruthfulness.  Id.  Rule 609 deals strictly with using criminal convictions to impeach a witness.  It provides that certain convictions are admissible, and notes that there is no distinction between a conviction resulting from a trial or a guilty plea.  See SCRE 609 (“For the purposes of this rule, a conviction includes a conviction resulting from a trial or any type of plea . . . .”).

Applying these rules to the facts of this case, Rule 609 indicates that the disposition of Sheriff’s prior charges is irrelevant.  It only matters that he was ultimately convicted of the charges.  Consequently, the evidence is inadmissible.  See SCRE 402 (“Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.”).

The fact that Sheriff previously pled guilty is likewise inadmissible under Rule 608.  If the act of pleading guilty is considered a specific act of conduct, it cannot be proved extrinsically to support the witness’s credibility.  That is exactly what Sheriff was attempting to do by contrasting his prior behavior with his decision to go to trial on the charges in this case.  Because Sheriff’s guilty pleas were irrelevant under Rule 609 and would improperly bolster his credibility under Rule 608, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to admit Sheriff’s testimony about his prior guilty pleas.   

Based on the foregoing, the ruling of the circuit court is

AFFIRMED.

ANDERSON, WILLIAMS, and KONDUROS, JJ., concur.


[1]  This case was decided without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.

[2]  The proffered testimony consisted of the following exchange:

Q.  Mr. Sheriff, you’ve got the prior convictions that we spoke about, correct?

A.  Yes sir.

Q.  Were those convictions at trial or did you plead guilty?

A.  I plead guilty.

Q.  And have you plead not guilty to this charge?

A.  To this charge?

Q.  The one you’re here for.

A.  I plead not guilty.

Q.  Why are you not pleading guilty to this charge?

A.  Because I’m not guilty of this charge.