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2010-UP-362 - State v. Sanders

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State, Respondent,

v.

Ricky Darren Sanders, Appellant.


Appeal From Sumter County
Ralph F. Cothran, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2010-UP-362
Submitted June 1, 2010 – Filed July 12, 2010


REVERSED AND REMANDED


Appellate Defender Elizabeth A. Franklin-Best, 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 William M. Blitch, Jr., all of Columbia, Cecil Kelly Jackson, of Sumter; for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: Ricky Darren Sanders appeals his conviction for first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC).  We reverse and remand.

FACTS

In 2008, Sanders was tried on charges of kidnapping and sexually assaulting Olivia in 2002.  McCrea alleged that while walking home Sanders grabbed her, dragged her into the nearby woods, and raped her. 

During pretrial motions, the State sought to exclude McCrea's 1997 conviction for filing a false police report.  Sanders argued the conviction would be an indication of McCrea's ability to be truthful.[1]  The court stated: "That doesn't come [in] under the rules," and after determining the maximum punishment for filing a false police report was thirty days' imprisonment, the court ruled that because the punishment was less than a year, "[i]t wouldn't be admissible [even] if it happened yesterday." 

The jury found Sanders guilty only on the charge of CSC, and the trial court sentenced him to thirty years' imprisonment.  This appeal followed.

ISSUE

1. Did the trial court err in excluding the victim's prior conviction for filing a false police report?[2]

LAW/ANALYSIS

"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. Wise, 359 S.C. 14, 21, 596 S.E.2d 475, 478 (2004).  "An abuse of discretion occurs when the conclusions of the trial court either lack evidentiary support or are controlled by an error of law."  State v. Pagan, 369 S.C. 201, 208, 631 S.E.2d 262, 265 (2006). 

A witness's prior conviction involving dishonesty or a false statement is admissible for impeachment regardless of the punishment.  Rule 609(a)(2), SCRE; State v. Cheeseboro, 346 S.C. 526, 544, 552 S.E.2d 300, 310 (2001).  However, the prior conviction is inadmissible if more than ten years have passed between the conviction or release from confinement and the testimony, "unless the court determines, in the interests of justice, that the probative value of the conviction supported by specific facts and circumstances substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect."  Rule 609(b), SCRE (emphasis added). 

In this case, Sanders argued the conviction was an indication of the victim's ability to be truthful and responsible; however, the trial court indicated that such a conviction was not admissible under the rules.  The trial court ruled that because the potential thirty day penalty for the offense was less than one year, "it wouldn't be admissible [even] if it happened yesterday."  However, Rule 609(a)(2), clearly states, "evidence that any witness has been convicted of a crime shall be admitted if it involved dishonesty or false statement, regardless of the punishment." (emphasis added)  Accordingly, the trial court erred in ruling the conviction inadmissible because it carried only a thirty day punishment.  Therefore, we find the trial court abused its discretion, and in light of the limited physical evidence in this case, such an error resulted in probable prejudice to Sanders.  See, e.g., Wise, 359 S.C. at 21, 596 S.E.2d at 478 (holding in order to warrant reversal, an abuse of discretion must be accompanied by probable prejudice).

Furthermore, although we recognize the conviction is admittedly remote in time, such convictions are not categorically inadmissible.  See Rule 609(b), SCRE (stating remote convictions may be admitted if in the interest of justice the trial court determines the probative value of the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect).  However, because the trial court focused on the potential punishment being less than one year, it was never occasioned to determine if the conviction fell within the exception provided by Rule 609(b). 

Accordingly, the ruling of the trial court is

REVERSED and REMANDED for a new trial. 

FEW, C.J., THOMAS, and PIEPER, JJ., concur.


[1]  Sanders also maintained he was not responsible for the two-year delay between the alleged assault and his arrest or the three-year delay between his arrest and trial.

[2]  We note Sanders also lists a second allegation of error as whether the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the issue of consent.  However, because our decision on the aforementioned issue is dispositive we are not occasioned to address Sanders' second allegation of error.  See Hughes v. State, 367 S.C. 389, 408-09, 626 S.E.2d 805, 815 (2006) (noting that an appellate court need not reach remaining issues on appeal when a decision on another issue is dispositive).