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2012-UP-072 - State v. Dixon

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.

Clastimile Dixon, Appellant.


Appeal From Darlington County
Paul M. Burch, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2012-UP-072
Submitted January 3, 2012 – Filed February 8, 2012


AFFIRMED


Appellate Defender Tristan M. Shaffer, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Senior Assistant Attorney General Harold M. Coombs, Jr., all of Columbia; and Solicitor William B. Rogers, Jr., of Bennettsville, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: Clastimile Dixon appeals his convictions for distribution of crack cocaine and distribution of crack cocaine within one half mile radius of a school, arguing the trial court erred in allowing a lay witness to give his opinion about the reason for not routinely testing crack cocaine for DNA and fingerprints.  We affirm.[1]

"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).  A lay witness's testimony in the form of an opinion or inference is admissible only if (a) it is "rationally based on the perception of the witness," (b) it is "helpful to a clear understanding of the witness'[s] testimony or the determination of a fact in issue," and (c) it does "not require special knowledge, skill, experience or training."  Rule 701, SCRE.  "If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise."  Rule 702, SCRE.

"[A]n insubstantial error not affecting the result of the trial is harmless where guilt has been conclusively proven by competent evidence such that no other rational conclusion can be reached."  State v. Price, 368 S.C. 494, 499, 629 S.E.2d 363, 366 (2006).  "Whether an error in the admission of evidence is harmless generally depends upon its materiality in relation to the case as a whole."  State v. Haselden, 353 S.C. 190, 196, 577 S.E.2d 445, 448 (2003).  "Where a review of the entire record establishes the error is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the conviction should not be reversed."  Price, 368 S.C. at 499, 629 S.E.2d at 366.

We find the trial court improperly admitted Deputy Russ Harrell's opinion testimony, which indicated that testing crack cocaine for fingerprints or DNA would have destroyed the integrity of the evidence.  His opinion required special knowledge of the effect of a wet cotton swab on crack cocaine or of introducing some other foreign substance into the crack cocaine.  Deputy Harrell would have acquired this knowledge through his job as a forensic investigator.  Deputy Harrell was not testifying as an expert.  Thus, his testimony in the form of opinion was restricted.  See Rule 701, SCRE (restricting the admissibility of a lay witness's opinion if it requires special knowledge, skill, experience, or training). 

However, competent evidence proving Dixon's guilt was introduced at trial: the videotape, the still pictures, the testimony of the confidential informant and her identification of Dixon, and the testimony of the officers identifying Dixon on the videotape and in the still pictures.  Therefore, the admission of Deputy Harrell's testimony was harmless.  See Price, 368 S.C. at 499, 629 S.E.2d at 366 ("[A]n insubstantial error not affecting the result of the trial is harmless where guilt has been conclusively proven by competent evidence such that no other rational conclusion can be reached."). 

Additionally, Deputy Brad Lawson testified without objection that fingerprinting the crack cocaine or obtaining DNA off of it in this case would have been unnecessary as the perpetrator was known and the procedure did not require taking these measures.  Accordingly, Detective Harrell's objectionable testimony had a minimal impact in the context of the entire record.  See Haselden, 353 S.C. at 196, 577 S.E.2d at 448 ("Whether an error in the admission of evidence is harmless generally depends upon its materiality in relation to the case as a whole."). 

Therefore, the trial court's improper admission of Deputy Harrell's testimony is not reversible error. 

AFFIRMED.

WILLIAMS and GEATHERS, JJ., and CURETON, A.J., concur.


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