State v. Adams

Citation322 S.C. 114,470 S.E.2d 366
Decision Date06 February 1996
Docket NumberNo. 24420,24420
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. George ADAMS, Appellant. . Heard
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina

Senior Assistant Appellate Defender Wanda H. Haile, of South Carolina, Office of Appellate Defense, Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Charles Molony Condon, Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Donald J. Zelenka, Senior Assistant Attorneys General, Harold M. Coombs, Jr. and William Edgar Salter, III, and Solicitor Warren B. Giese, Columbia, for Respondent.

TOAL, Associate Justice.

Appellant George Adams was convicted on charges of murder and armed robbery. On appeal, Adams alleges the trial court erred in allowing evidence of prior bad acts, particularly of his participation in another armed robbery and of his prior cocaine use; in finding the defense violated Batson; and in refusing to instruct the jury on the definition of reasonable doubt. We affirm.


According to testimony presented at trial, appellant Adams, James Brown, Rosena Farmer, and a few other friends were smoking crack cocaine together in the early morning on June 17, 1992. About 5:30 a.m., they decided they needed more money for drugs, so Adams and Brown went into a Circle K convenience store located on Columbia College Drive in Columbia. Brown had a gun. Adams and Brown demanded that the cashier give them money, and the cashier complied. Adams, Brown, and the others used the money from that robbery to purchase more crack, which they smoked immediately.

When they ran out of crack again at approximately 6:00 a.m., Farmer suggested Brown and Adams rob Johnny's Grocery, a small grocery store/grill run by Mildred and Joe Collins. Farmer then directed Brown and Adams to Johnny's Grocery. Mildred Collins testified at trial that two men entered the store. The man in the white shirt (Brown) asked for cigarettes, and the man in the blue shirt (Adams) asked for beer. Because Johnny's Grocery did not sell beer, and also because she was frightened, Mildred Collins suggested the two men try another store down the street, which sold both cigarettes and beer. At that point Brown pulled his gun and demanded money. He took all the money in the cash register.

Mildred Collins's husband Joe then entered the front of the store. A scuffle apparently ensued between Brown and Joe Collins. After a shot was fired, Joe Collins fell to the ground. One of the men took Joe Collins's wallet and picked up the gun Brown had carried into the store. Brown and Adams then exited Johnny's Grocery. Joe Collins was dead. According to Rosena Farmer's testimony, the money from the robbery was used to purchase more drugs.

Adams was tried for murder and armed robbery in connection with the incident at Johnny's Grocery. The State's theory of the case as to the murder count was that Brown was the trigger man, but that Adams also was guilty of murder under the "hand of one, hand of all" doctrine. The jury convicted Adams of both murder and armed robbery.

Adams appeals.

A. Evidence of Prior Bad Acts

Adams asserts the trial judge erred in admitting evidence of Adams's participation in the Circle K robbery and of his crack use on the morning of June 17, 1992. We disagree.

Prior to and at trial, Adams argued that evidence of his prior bad acts should be excluded pursuant to State v. Lyle, 125 S.C. 406, 118 S.E. 803 (1923). The solicitor argued that the evidence of Adams's participation in the Circle K robbery on the same morning of the Johnny's Grocery robbery showed Adams's motive and intent and also demonstrated the existence of a common scheme or plan. The solicitor argued the cocaine use was part of the res gestae and showed a motive for the crime. The judge found the evidence of prior bad acts fell within the Lyle exceptions raised and held the evidence admissible.

South Carolina law precludes evidence of a defendant's prior crimes or other bad acts to prove the defendant's guilt for the crime charged except to establish (1) motive, (2) intent, (3) absence of mistake or accident, (4) a common scheme or plan, or (5) identity. Lyle, 125 S.C. at 416, 118 S.E. at 807; accord State v. Bell, 302 S.C. 18, 393 S.E.2d 364, cert. denied, 498 U.S. 881, 111 S.Ct. 227, 112 L.Ed.2d 182 (1990). The evidence of prior bad acts must be clear and convincing to be admissible. Lyle, 125 S.C. at 416, 118 S.E. at 807. Further, even though the evidence is clear and convincing and falls within a Lyle exception, the trial judge must exclude it if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to the defendant. State v. Alexander, 303 S.C. 377, 401 S.E.2d 146 (1991); see also Rule 403, SCREvid (recently adopted).

The evidence that Adams participated with Brown in the robbery of the Circle K only half an hour before the robbery and murder at Johnny's Grocery is relevant to show Adams's intent. Adams was not the triggerman in the murder at Johnny's Grocery, but only an alleged accomplice. Therefore, to prove Adams was guilty of murder, the State had the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Adams combined with Brown to commit an unlawful act--armed robbery--and that homicide was a natural and probable consequence of the act planned. See, e.g., State v. Johnson, 291 S.C. 127, 352 S.E.2d 480 (1987). Adams's mere presence with Brown at Johnny's Grocery cannot establish Adams's guilt; the prosecution must prove a combination. Id. Stated another way, Adams's intent to rob Johnny's Grocery with Brown was a prerequisite to his liability for murder.

The armed robbery of the Circle K that Brown and Adams committed at 5:30 a.m. tends to show that when Adams entered Johnny's Grocery with Brown at 6:00 a.m., only half an hour after the first incident, the two intended to rob the place. Cf. State v. Simmons, 310 S.C. 439, 427 S.E.2d 175 (1993) (finding evidence of prior attacks on elderly women admissible to show defendant's intent in entering home of elderly woman), rev'd on other grounds,512 U.S. 154, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L.Ed.2d 133 (1994); State v. Hammond, 270 S.C. 347, 242 S.E.2d 411 (1978) (finding that the presence of marijuana in a truck on defendant's property was admissible as relevant to defendant's intent to distribute cocaine). The evidence regarding the Circle K robbery obviously is highly prejudicial. However, its probative value is also high because the evidence tends to establish Adams's intent to combine with Brown to commit armed robbery, which combination is an essential element of murder under the "hand of one, hand of all" doctrine. The trial judge properly admitted this evidence. 1

The evidence of Adams's cocaine use prior to the robbery and murder at Johnny's Grocery was admissible both to show motive and as part of the res gestae. We appreciate the great possibility that unfair prejudice may result from evidence of a criminal defendant's past use of cocaine. In prior cases, therefore, we have been especially careful to ensure that evidence of prior drug use actually falls within one of the exceptions to Lyle and that its probative value outweighs the danger of unfair prejudice to the defendant. Although several cases are relevant to this issue generally, three are particularly pertinent to the case before us today.

In State v. Smith, 309 S.C. 442, 424 S.E.2d 496 (1992), this Court held that the trial court in a capital murder case improperly admitted evidence of the defendant's use of cocaine. The State's theory of the case was that the defendant bludgeoned her husband to death with a baseball bat. At trial, one of the State's witnesses testified that at some time in the past, he and the defendant had obtained cocaine by trading pistols belonging to defendant's husband and that the defendant had in the past left the witness waiting beside the road while she went to get cocaine. Id. at 445, 424 S.E.2d at 498. On appeal, the State argued the defendant's prior cocaine use was relevant to establish a motive for murder. Id. at 446, 424 S.E.2d at 498.

This Court disagreed. First, it found that "evidence of drug use is incompetent to establish motive for a crime ... where the record does not support any relationship between the crime and the drug use." Id. (citing State v. Bolden, 303 S.C. 41, 398 S.E.2d 494 (1990)) (emphasis added). The Court indicated that where drug use is unrelated to the crime at issue, evidence of the drug use should be excluded. Id. at 447, 424 S.E.2d at 498. We also rejected the dissent's argument that the evidence of cocaine use was part of the res gestae. In so doing, the Court made special note that "the prior incident of [defendant] smoking cocaine at an unspecified time was certainly not contemporaneous with [victim's] murder." Id.

In State v. Bolden, 303 S.C. 41, 398 S.E.2d 494 (1990), this Court found that the trial court erred in allowing evidence that the defendant smoked crack cocaine the night before he committed an armed robbery. Evidence presented at trial indicated the defendant had checked into a hotel with a woman and had smoked crack cocaine while at the hotel. The next morning he robbed the hotel clerk at gunpoint. We held that there was "nothing in the record to indicate a logical relevance between use of the crack cocaine during the night before the robbery and the robbery which occurred at 6:10 a.m. the next day." Id. at 43, 398 S.E.2d at 494-95. The Court rejected the argument by the State and the dissent that evidence of defendant's use of crack cocaine the night before the robbery was admissible as part of the res gestae of the crime. Id. at 43, 398 S.E.2d at 495.

Finally, in State v. Coleman, 301 S.C. 57, 389 S.E.2d 659 (1990), this Court unanimously held the trial court should not have allowed evidence that the defendant was a social user of cocaine. The Court recognized that evidence of prior bad acts sometimes is admissible, but found that:

the trial judge abused his...

To continue reading

Request your trial
117 cases
  • State v. Rigual, (SC 16026)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 8 Mayo 2001
    ...whenever other party exercises peremptory challenges to remove members of cognizable racial group from venire); State v. Adams, 322 S.C. 114, 124, 470 S.E.2d 366 (1996) (trial judge must hold Batson hearing when members of cognizable racial group or gender are struck and opposing party requ......
  • State v. Humphries, 3380.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 6 Agosto 2001
    ...outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to the defendant. State v. King, 334 S.C. 504, 514 S.E.2d 578 (1999); State v. Adams, 322 S.C. 114, 470 S.E.2d 366 (1996); Rule 403, In State v. Caskey, 273 S.C. 325, 256 S.E.2d 737 (1979), our Supreme Court addressed the common scheme or plan ex......
  • State v. Cherry, 3296.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 12 Febrero 2001
    ...During the hearing, the proponent of the peremptory strikes must present a racially neutral explanation. Id.; State v. Adams, 322 S.C. 114, 124, 470 S.E.2d 366, 372 (1996). Once this is done, the burden shifts to the strike's opponent to show the reason or reasons given were merely pretextu......
  • State v. Edwards, 4261.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 21 Junio 2007
    ...and will be set aside on appeal only if clearly erroneous. State v. Haigler, 334 S.C. 623, 515 S.E.2d 88 (1999); State v. Adams, 322 S.C. 114, 470 S.E.2d 366 (1996). The body of law extant in regard to rulings made by a trial judge in a Batson hearing reveals luculently that the appellate c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT