State v. Bell, No. 2008-UP-249 (S.C. App. 5/7/2008), No. 2008-UP-249.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtPer Curiam
PartiesThe State, Respondent, v. Herbert Lee Bell, Appellant.
Decision Date07 May 2008
Docket NumberNo. 2008-UP-249.

Page 1

Unpublished Opinion

The State, Respondent,
Herbert Lee Bell, Appellant.
No. 2008-UP-249.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Submitted May 1, 2008.
Filed May 7, 2008.

Appeal From Sumter County, Clifton Newman, Circuit Court Judge.


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

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, Senior Assistant Attorney General Norman Mark Rapoport, all of Columbia; and Solicitor C. Kelly Jackson, of Sumter, for Respondent.


Herbert Lee Bell (Bell) appeals his conviction of trafficking in crack cocaine in an amount of more than two hundred grams but less than four hundred grams. We affirm.1


In late 2003, police obtained information about possible illegal drug activity in a trailer at 5595 Panola Road ("5595") in Pinewood, in Sumter County. Based on this information, the police sent a confidential informant wearing a wire to 5595 on November 12 to purchase drugs. The informant purchased a quantity of crack cocaine (crack) from Reggie Robinson (Robinson). The next day, an informant returned to 5595 and purchased another quantity of crack from Alexander Lewis (Lewis). On November 20, the informant made another purchase of crack in 5595 from Robinson. On November 25, the informant purchased more crack inside 5595 from Robinson.

As a result of their investigation and the prior buys, the police obtained a search warrant for 5595 on November 26. Before the warrant was executed, the police sent the informant back on December 4 to confirm the presence of drugs. The informant went to 5595 in the morning, but there was no answer at the door. The informant returned to the car where the police were waiting. As they drove off down the road, Lewis walked out of another residence across the street at 5650 Panola Road ("5650"). The informant got out of the car and talked with Lewis on the driveway of 5595. Lewis told the informant to return at another time. The informant returned to 5595 around eleven o'clock, but again nobody was home. Lewis came out of 5650 and told him to return at two o'clock. Around two o'clock, the informant returned and purchased crack inside 5595 from Lewis.

A few hours later, the police executed the search warrant for 5595. Lewis was seized inside the trailer and Robinson was apprehended as he tried to flee out the back door. The police subsequently set up a reverse-sting and arrested numerous individuals who came to 5595 to purchase drugs. They soon ran out of space to park the buyers' cars, so they ceased the operation.

During the search of 5595, the police found a chair by the window near the door. There was a small sliding match box on the window sill with crack inside. A walkie-talkie was near the chair. An aspirin bottle with crack and a jar of crack were seized in a bedroom. There was a marijuana pipe in the bedroom with trace amounts of crack in it. The total weight of the crack from 5595 was 74.32 grams. There was no furniture in the trailer other than the chair near the door and a mattress on the floor of the bedroom. The bathroom was not functional. Officer Angela Barger testified the trailer "doesn't look like it's actually a lived in residence. It just appears to be used solely for the purpose of narcotics." An electric bill under the name "Racheka Michelle Bell" was found in the kitchen. An appointment card and a medical receipt for Lewis were found in the kitchen. A cash ticket for Bell from a furniture store for a roll-away bed was also found in the kitchen.

While the police were at 5595, other officers proceeded to 5650 to investigate. Bell answered the door. He agreed to accompany them across the street to 5595. The police subsequently obtained a search warrant for 5650.

Pursuant to the search of 5650, the police seized a chair by the window in the living room with a clear view of 5595. There was no other furniture inside except for a television and a video game system. They found a scanner, binoculars, and a walkie-talkie nearby. The kitchen had no dishes, food, or anything which indicated somebody lived in the residence. The police discovered a half-gallon mason jar in the dishwasher in the kitchen, "one third to one half full" of crack. The jar contained 227.03 grams of crack. There were also assorted glassware and paraphernalia inside the dishwasher used to make crack. There was crack residue on the items. The walkie-talkies at 5650 and 5595 were set to the same channel. The police found an insurance card for Bell in a drawer in the kitchen. An application for pretrial intervention for Robinson was also inside the drawer. Rental agreements for 5595 to Alexander Lewis and for 5650 to "Michael Lewis," dated November 1, 2003, were found in the living room. An electric bill to Michael Lewis was found in a bedroom. The mason jar found in 5650 was dusted for fingerprints. Robinson and Bell's fingerprints were found on it.

Bell was served with arrest warrants for manufacturing crack and trafficking in crack on December 5, 2003. Bell was released on a $70,000 surety bond, and he signed a bond sheet wherein under the heading "ACKNOWLEDGEMENT BY THE DEFENDANT," it indicates: "I understand and have been informed that I have a right and obligation to be present at trial, and should I fail to attend the court, the trial will proceed in my absence."

On February 19, 2004, the Sumter County Grand Jury indicted Bell on trafficking in crack cocaine in an amount of more than twenty-eight grams but less than one hundred grams and for trafficking in crack cocaine more than two hundred grams but less than four hundred grams. On March 7, 2006, circuit court Judge Clifton Newman proceeded to trial with a jury against Bell on the trafficking charge of more than two hundred grams but less than four hundred grams. Bell's attorney was present and ready for trial, but Bell was not in attendance at the trial. The bailiff called his name from the courthouse step three times, but Bell did not respond and present himself for trial. The two-day trial proceeded in Bell's absence.

Detective Allen Dailey explained the amount of crack seized from the mason jar in 5650 "is solely something you would find with a seller, it's quite a bit of money." Dailey testified the crack was "freshly cut" for sale. Deputy Trevor Brown testified the police "hardly ever" find that much crack at one location. Brown further said it was not uncommon for drug dealers to store drugs at one location and then sell them from another location.

Mack McLeod testified he owned both properties. He recalled that shortly before Bell's arrest, Bell wanted to purchase 5650. He paid rent in cash for it in November. McLeod said 5595 was rented out by his father (since deceased), but he thought Lewis rented it.

Alexander Lewis testified for the State. Lewis testified he moved to 5595 with Bell, who is his nephew. He stated Bell paid the rent. Lewis said his brother Michael and Robinson also stayed with them on occasion. Lewis testified he sold drugs from the trailer. Lewis said the crack was kept in the jar seized by the police. Lewis claimed he would go through a jar of crack "sometimes two times a day." Lewis testified he got the crack from Bell and sold it for him. In return, Lewis got crack for his personal use. Lewis said Bell produced the crack in 5595 and 5650. He stated that Bell had moved to 5650.

Robinson also testified for the State. Robinson said he stayed at 5595 "off and on." He and Bell were longtime friends. Robinson testified Bell paid the rent and was there "all the time." He said Alexander and Michael Lewis also stayed there. Robinson said he sold drugs from 5595 for Bell. Robinson testified Bell provided the crack and put it in the jars to sell. He said a jar of crack would last "about a week, two weeks." Robinson gave Bell the money from the sales. Robinson also testified Bell produced the crack in 5595 and 5650 and they used the walkie-talkies to communicate between the residences.

The jury found Bell guilty, and Judge Newman issued a sentence but sealed it until Bell was present. On June 7, 2006, Judge Steven H. John unsealed the sentence in Bell's presence and sentenced Bell to twenty-five years and a fine of $100,000. Bell's attorney filed a notice of appeal on June 8, 2006.


1. Did the trial court err in proceeding with Bell's trial in his absence?

2. Did the trial court err in not granting a mistrial when the State failed to provide their expert's fingerprint report?


In criminal cases, the appellate court sits to review errors of law only. State v. Butler, 353 S.C. 383, 388, 577 S.E.2d 498, 500 (Ct. App. 2003). We are bound by the trial court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous. Id. at 388, 577 S.E.2d at 500-01.

On review, we are limited to determining whether the trial judge abused his discretion. State v. Reed, 332 S.C. 35, 503 S.E.2d 747 (1998); State v. Patterson, 367 S.C. 219, 224, 625 S.E.2d 239, 241-242 (Ct. App. 2006). An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's ruling is based on an error of law. State v. McDonald, 343 S.C. 319, 540 S.E.2d 464 (2000); State v. Adams, 354 S.C. 361, 580 S.E.2d 785 (Ct. App. 2003). In order for an error to warrant reversal, the error must result in prejudice to the appellant. See State v. Beck, 342 S.C. 129, 536 S.E.2d 679 (2000); see also State v. Wyatt, 317 S.C. 370, 453 S.E.2d 890 (1995).


I. Trial in absentia

Bell argues the trial court erred by proceeding with his trial in his absence because he alleges the State failed to prove he had notice that his trial would proceed in his absence. We disagree.

Bell signed a bond sheet on December 5, 2003, wherein under the heading "ACKNOWLEDGEMENT BY THE DEFENDANT," it indicates: "I understand and have been informed that I have a right and obligation to be present...

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