Supreme Court Seal
South Carolina
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
Site Map | Feedback
2012-UP-063 - State v. Brown

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.

Stanford Lavelle Brown, Appellant.


Appeal From Charleston County
Kristi Lea Harrington, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No.  2012-UP-063 
Submitted January 3, 2012 – Filed February 8, 2012


AFFIRMED


Deputy Chief Appellate Defender Wanda H. Carter, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Assistant Attorney General Deborah R.J. Shupe, all of Columbia; and Scarlett A. Wilson, of Charleston, for Respondent.

PER CURIAMStanford Lavelle Brown appeals his conviction for trafficking in cocaine base.  He argues the circuit court erred in admitting (1) his jailhouse telephone conversations and (2) drug evidence after two witnesses involved in the chain of custody did not testify at trial and a labeling error was discovered.  We affirm.[1]

1. We find the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in admitting several jailhouse telephone conversations between Brown and a confidant placing Brown at the scene of the crime.  Specifically, the statements made by Brown are admissions excluded from the definition of hearsay.  See Rule 801(d)(2)(A), SCRE.  Moreover, the relevant utterances of his confidant were neither assertions nor offered for their truth.[2]  See Rules 801(a) & (c), SCRE.  All other statements made by Brown's confidant were harmless in light of Brown's admissions.  See State v. Liverman, 386 S.C. 223, 233-34, 687 S.E.2d 70, 75 (Ct. App. 2009) (holding that reversal of a circuit court's ruling to admit or exclude evidence requires prejudice to the defendant).

2.  We find the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the drugs into evidence.  The absence of two witnesses who handled the drugs is not fatal to the chain of custody, even in light of remedied clerical errors that occurred earlier in the chain.

In order to admit drugs into evidence, the State "must establish a complete chain of custody as far as practicable."  State v. Sweet, 374 S.C. 1, 6, 647 S.E.2d 202, 205 (2007).  Who had handled the drugs and what was done with them must not be left to conjecture.  Id.  The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, has retreated from "inflexible rules regarding the chain of custody and the admissibility of evidence," giving the circuit court more discretion in ruling on the admissibility of fungible evidence.  State v. Hatcher, 392 S.C. 86, 94, 708 S.E.2d 750, 754 (2011).  First, each custodian in the chain need not testify "[w]here other evidence establishes the identity of those who have handled the [drugs] and reasonably demonstrates the manner of handling of [them]."  Id. at 91, 708 S.E.2d at 753.  Indeed, "[i]t is unnecessary . . . that the police account for every hand-to-hand transfer."  Id. at 94, 708 S.E.2d at 754 (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted).  Second, as long as the chain is sufficiently complete, the State need not "negate all possibility of tampering."  Id. at 92, 708 S.E.2d at 753.  Courts, though, will not fill gaps "where there is a missing link in the chain of possession because the identity of those who handled the [drugs] was not established at least as far as practicable."  Id. (emphasis removed).

Here, the State identified each witness who handled the drugs, and only two did not testify.  One witness, a State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) technician, merely accepted the drugs from investigators and placed them into the vault.  Another SLED technician merely served as a go-between, transferring the evidence between vaults, to and from the analyst, and ultimately back to investigators.  The SLED analyst explained the role each technician had in handling the drugs and testified she found no sign of tampering.  Hatcher involved similar procedures at SLED, where evidence was logged and handled by technicians other than the analyst who performed the testing.  Id. at 90 n.1, 708 S.E.2d at 752 n.1.  Given the supreme court's position that these technicians had "fleeting contact with the evidence," we find the circuit court here properly exercised its discretion against "unnecessary logistical problems concerning chain of custody."  Id. at 94, 708 S.E.2d at 754.

We also find the clerical errors made by investigators were remedied to the extent the drugs remained properly identifiable.  See id. at 95, 708 S.E.2d at 755 ("The ultimate goal of chain of custody requirements is simply to ensure that the item is what it is purported to be.").  Each witness involved in correcting the errors testified about how they handled the drugs.  Moreover, we note the evidence shows the remedied errors of the investigators are unconnected to the SLED technicians' handling of the drugs, and we find the errors did not necessitate the technicians' testimony.

AFFIRMED.

HUFF, PIEPER, and LOCKEMY, JJ., concur.


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

[2] Brown also argues the admission of his confidant's utterances violated his right to confront witnesses.  This issue, however, was never ruled on by the circuit court and is thus not preserved for our review.  See State v. Dunbar, 356 S.C. 138, 142, 587 S.E.2d 691, 693 (2003) ("In order for an issue to be preserved for appellate review, it must have been raised to and ruled upon by the [circuit court].").