In re Care and Treatment of Way

Decision Date08 June 2011
Docket Number2011-UP-268
PartiesIn The Matter Of The Care And Treatment of Vincent N. Way, Appellant.
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals

In The Matter Of The Care And Treatment of Vincent N. Way, Appellant.

No. 2011-UP-268

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

June 8, 2011


UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Submitted April 1, 2011

Appeal From Charleston County Deadra L. Jefferson, Circuit Court Judge.

Appellate Defender Lanelle C. Durant, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Attorney General William M. Blitch, and Assistant Attorney General Deborah R.J. Shupe, all of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM

Vince Neal Way appeals the trial court's order committing him to the Department of Mental Health for long term control, care, and treatment after a jury found that Way satisfied the definition of a sexually violent predator pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVP Act), S.C. Code Ann. §§ 44-48-10 to -170 (Supp. 2010). Way argues the trial court erred (1) in allowing the State to present evidence of a 1995 criminal sexual conduct (CSC) charge that was later dismissed because DNA evidence proved that he was not guilty; (2) in allowing the victim of his 1993 CSC conviction to testify; and (3) in allowing the State to question him regarding whether he retained an expert to conduct a second mental evaluation. Further, Way asserts the trial court erred when it allowed the State to tell the jury that it could infer the absence of Way's retained expert meant that the expert's testimony would have been adverse to his case.

Because we find the trial court made no reversible error, we affirm. [1]

I. Evidence of a Prior Conviction

Way asserts the trial court erred in allowing the State to present evidence of the 1995 CSC charge that was later dismissed because DNA evidence proved that he was not guilty. Way states the probative value of that evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. He alleges the jury was led to believe he was guilty of the CSC charge when, in fact, he pled guilty to a lesser charge. However, Way's argument is based on an erroneous interpretation of the sequence of events and testimony at trial. Despite the trial court's ruling that this evidence was admissible, the State ultimately abandoned the introduction of this evidence. Therefore, we find no reversible error in the trial court's ruling.

The admission of evidence is within the sound discretion of the court and will not be reversed absent a showing of abuse of discretion. In re Corley, 353 S.C. 202, 205, 577 S.E.2d 451, 453 (2003); see also State v. Wise, 359 S.C. 14, 21, 596 S.E.2d 475, 478 (2004) ("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."). "The trial judge is given broad discretion in ruling on questions concerning the relevancy of evidence, and his decision will be reversed only if there is a clear abuse of discretion." State v. Aleksey, 343 S.C. 20, 35, 538 S.E.2d 248, 256 (2000).

"Generally, all relevant evidence is admissible." State v. Pittman, 373 S.C. 527, 578, 647 S.E.2d 144, 170 (2007); see also Rule 402, SCRE. Evidence is relevant if it has "any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Rule 401, SCRE; State v. Livingston, 327 S.C. 17, 19-20, 488 S.E.2d 313, 314 (1997). On the other hand, relevant evidence may be excluded where its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Rule 403, SCRE; State v. Brazell, 325 S.C. 65, 78, 480 S.E.2d 64, 72 (1997).

Under the SVP Act, a sexually violent predator is defined as a person who "(a) has been convicted of a sexually violent offense; and (b) suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility for long-term control, care, and treatment." S.C. Code Ann. § 44-48-30(1)(a)-(b) (Supp. 2010). "Mental abnormality" is defined as "a mental condition affecting a person's emotional or volitional capacity that predisposes the person to commit sexually violent offenses." S.C. Code Ann. § 44-48-30(3) (Supp. 2010). The phrase "likely to engage in acts of sexual violence" is defined as a "propensity to commit acts of sexual violence... of such a degree as to pose a menace to the health and safety of others." S.C. Code Ann. § 44-48-30(9) (Supp. 2010).

In 1993, Way pled guilty to committing a lewd act upon a minor and was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, suspended upon service of 18 months' imprisonment plus five years' probation. In 1995, while on probation, Way was arrested for CSC and pled guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In 1997, while on probation from the prior convictions, Way pled guilty to committing a lewd act upon a minor and was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment.

At Way's civil commitment proceeding, the State sought to admit testimony from the State's retained psychiatrist regarding the 1995 CSC charge to show Way had a dangerous propensity to commit violent sexual acts. Way objected to the admission of the 1995 CSC charge as it had later been determined that he did not commit the crime. The court overruled the objection, stating that the testimony was more probative than prejudicial, that it was relevant, and that it helped to form the foundation of the expert witness's opinion. Nevertheless, when direct examination continued, the State only questioned the witness regarding Way's "contributing to the delinquency" plea. The State never mentioned in the jury's presence that Way was indicted for CSC. Therefore, no prejudice occurred to Way as a result of the trial court's ruling that allowed the State to question the witness regarding the CSC charge. The only mention of anything sexual in nature regarding the CSC charge was during cross-examination by Way's own trial counsel. Hence, Way cannot complain on appeal regarding the introduction of testimony that he elicited. Gissel v. Hart, 382 S.C. 235, 243, 676 S.E.2d 320, 324 (2009); see also Erickson v. Jones St. Publishers, LLC, 368 S.C. 444, 476, 629 S.E.2d 653, 670 (2006) (stating a party may not complain on appeal of an error that his own conduct produced). Because we find that no error occurred in the admission of evidence, we affirm the trial court's ruling.

II. Testimony of a Prior Victim of CSC

Way argues the trial court erred in allowing the victim of his 1993 CSC conviction to testify. Way contends that because he pled guilty to the charge and stipulated that...

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