State v. Brannon

Decision Date18 July 2008
Docket NumberNo. 4428.,4428.
Citation666 S.E.2d 272,379 S.C. 487
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals
PartiesThe STATE of South Carolina, Respondent, v. Ricky BRANNON, Appellant.


Appellant Ricky Brannon was convicted of resisting arrest for fleeing on foot from police officers who yelled, "Stop, police." Citing a lack of direct and substantial circumstantial evidence, he argues the circuit court judge erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict. We agree.1


Maria Raney, a resident of Westwood Apartments in Gaffney, awoke in the early morning hours of April 21, 2003. Upon looking out her window, she observed her car with its interior light illuminated and a man moving around inside. She called 911 and the operator asked her to stay on the line until police arrived. Rainey complied and informed the operator when she saw Gaffney Police Department Officers Michael Scruggs and Randy Quinn. Rainey testified the officers "came up and they hollered police and I saw them as [they] chased him."

With dispatch relaying information as it was supplied by Rainey, Officer Scruggs and Officer Quinn approached the apartment building with the headlights and sirens off. Once in proximity, the officers proceeded on foot and observed a figure standing outside a vehicle whose interior light was on. Rainey's observations, as conveyed by dispatch, informed them the suspect had moved on to another car, a Ford Explorer owned by a neighbor's mother. The officers saw only one figure in the parking lot by an Explorer. Scruggs explained "[a]t that time, we knew we had a crime being committed." Scruggs said the person looked up, apparently hearing them. Scruggs testified:

Q: Now, when y'all came up, you say you identified yourself. Tell me exactly what you said.

A: I think Officer Quinn told him just, said just stop police, or I believe that's what he said.

Q: Okay. Stop police. Was anything else said to him?

A: No, sir, other than stop again because he was already running.

Q: All right. So all that was said to him was stop police and then stop again? He was never placed under arrest?

A: No, sir, not until we caught him.

Officer Quinn testified:

Q: Based upon information you had, did you believe the subject, at that time, was the individual breaking into motor vehicles?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: And what was your intention when the subject took off?


A: Our intention was to approach the subject and find out exactly what he was doing there at that time. We believe he was breaking into a motor vehicle and we placed him under arrest for that charge.

Brannon ran three hundred to three hundred fifty yards before being placed under arrest. The record does not indicate Brannon resisted the officers once caught. Scruggs explained:

Q: Why was he charged with resisting arrest?

A: For running on myself and Officer Quinn.

After being found guilty, Brannon was sentenced to three years in prison for breaking into a motor vehicle, suspended upon the service of two years, and one year probation. He was additionally sentenced to one year in prison for resisting arrest. The sentences are concurrent.


In criminal cases, an appellate court sits to review errors of law only. State v. Baccus, 367 S.C. 41, 48, 625 S.E.2d 216, 220 (2006); State v. Miller, 375 S.C. 370, 378, 652 S.E.2d 444, 448 (Ct.App.2007); State v. Wood, 362 S.C. 520, 525, 608 S.E.2d 435, 438 (Ct.App. 2004). Thus, an appellate court is bound by the trial court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous. Id.; State v. Landis, 362 S.C. 97, 101, 606 S.E.2d 503, 504 (Ct.App. 2004). On appeal, we are limited to determining whether the trial court abused its discretion. State v. Reed, 332 S.C. 35, 43, 503 S.E.2d 747, 751 (1998); State v. Walker, 366 S.C. 643, 653, 623 S.E.2d 122, 127 (Ct. App.2005). The conduct of a criminal trial is left largely to the sound discretion of the trial judge, who will not be reversed absent a prejudicial abuse of discretion. State v. Bridges, 278 S.C. 447, 448, 298 S.E.2d 212, 212 (1982); State v. Patterson, 367 S.C. 219, 230, 625 S.E.2d 239, 245 (Ct.App.2006), cert. denied, May 3, 2007.

I. Directed Verdict

Brannon contends the trial court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict on the resisting arrest charge.

When ruling on a motion for a directed verdict, the trial court is concerned with the existence or nonexistence of evidence, not its weight. State v. Weston, 367 S.C. 279, 292, 625 S.E.2d 641, 648 (2006); State v. Stanley, 365 S.C. 24, 41-42, 615 S.E.2d 455, 464 (Ct.App.2005); State v. Padgett, 354 S.C. 268, 271, 580 S.E.2d 159, 161 (Ct.App.2003). A defendant is entitled to a directed verdict when the State fails to produce evidence of the offense charged. State v. Cherry, 361 S.C. 588, 593, 606 S.E.2d 475, 478 (2004) (citing State v. McKnight, 352 S.C. 635, 642, 576 S.E.2d 168, 171 (2003)); State v. Crawford, 362 S.C. 627, 633, 608 S.E.2d 886, 889 (Ct.App.2005); Padgett, 354 S.C. at 271, 580 S.E.2d at 161. When reviewing a denial of a directed verdict, an appellate court views evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the State. Weston, 367 S.C. at 292, 625 S.E.2d at 648; State v. Zeigler, 364 S.C. 94, 101, 610 S.E.2d 859, 863 (Ct.App.2005); State v. Al-Amin, 353 S.C. 405, 411, 578 S.E.2d 32, 35 (Ct.App.2003). If there is any direct evidence or substantial circumstantial evidence reasonably tending to prove the guilt of the accused, we must find the case was properly submitted to the jury. Weston, 367 S.C. at 292-93, 625 S.E.2d at 648; Cherry, 361 S.C. at 593, 606 S.E.2d at 478; McKnight, 352 S.C. at 642, 576 S.E.2d at 172; State v. Condrey, 349 S.C. 184, 190, 562 S.E.2d 320, 323 (Ct.App.2002); see also State v. Horton, 359 S.C. 555, 563, 598 S.E.2d 279, 284 (Ct.App.2004) (noting judge should deny motion for directed verdict if there is any direct or substantial circumstantial evidence that reasonably tends to prove the defendant's guilt, or from which guilt may be fairly and logically deduced). The appellate court may reverse the trial court's denial of a motion for a directed verdict only if there is no evidence to support the court's ruling. State v. Gaster, 349 S.C. 545, 564 S.E.2d 87 (2002).

The trial court should grant a directed verdict when the evidence merely raises a suspicion that the defendant is guilty. State v. Arnold, 361 S.C. 386, 390, 605 S.E.2d 529, 531 (2004); State v. Schrock, 283 S.C. 129, 132, 322 S.E.2d 450, 452 (1984); State v. Horne, 324 S.C. 372, 379, 478 S.E.2d 289, 293 (Ct.App.1996). "`Suspicion' implies a belief or opinion as to guilt based upon facts or circumstances which do not amount to proof." Cherry, 361 S.C. at 594, 606 S.E.2d at 478. However, a trial court is not required to find that the evidence infers guilt to the exclusion of any other reasonable hypothesis. Id.

II. Rules of Statutory Construction

The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is to determine the intent of the legislature. Bass v. Isochem, 365 S.C. 454, 459, 617 S.E.2d 369, 377 (Ct.App.2005); Georgia-Carolina Bail Bonds, Inc. v. County of Aiken, 354 S.C. 18, 22, 579 S.E.2d 334, 336 (Ct.App.2003); Smith v. S.C. Ins. Co., 350 S.C. 82, 87, 564 S.E.2d 358, 361 (Ct.App. 2002); see also Gordon v. Phillips Utils., Inc., 362 S.C. 403, 406, 608 S.E.2d 425, 427 (2005) ("The primary purpose in construing a statute is to ascertain legislative intent."). All rules of statutory construction are subservient to the one that legislative intent must prevail if it can be reasonably discovered in the language used, and that language must be construed in the light of the intended purpose of the statute. McClanahan v. Richland County Council, 350 S.C. 433, 438, 567 S.E.2d 240, 242 (2002); Ray Bell Constr. Co. v. Sch. Dist. of Greenville County, 331 S.C. 19, 26, 501 S.E.2d 725, 729 (1998); State v. Morgan, 352 S.C. 359, 365-66, 574 S.E.2d 203, 206 (Ct.App.2002); State v. Hudson, 336 S.C. 237, 246, 519 S.E.2d 577, 581 (Ct.App. 1999). "Once the legislature has made [a] choice, there is no room for the courts to impose a different judgment based upon their own notions of public policy." S.C. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Mumford, 299 S.C. 14, 19, 382 S.E.2d 11, 14 (Ct.App.1989).

The legislature's intent should be ascertained primarily from the plain language of the statute. State v. Landis, 362 S.C. 97, 102, 606 S.E.2d 503, 505 (Ct.App.2004); Morgan, 352 S.C. at 366, 574 S.E.2d at 206; Stephen v. Avins Constr. Co., 324 S.C. 334, 339, 478 S.E.2d 74, 77 (Ct.App.1996). The language must be read to harmonize with its subject matter and accord with its general purpose. Mun. Ass'n of S.C. v. AT&T Commc'ns of S. States, Inc., 361 S.C. 576, 580, 606 S.E.2d 468, 470 (2004); Hitachi Data Sys. Corp. v. Leatherman, 309 S.C. 174, 178, 420 S.E.2d 843, 846 (1992); Morgan, 352 S.C. at 366, 574 S.E.2d at 206; Hudson, 336 S.C. at 246, 519 S.E.2d at 582.

When a statute's terms are clear and unambiguous on their face, there is no room for statutory construction and a court must apply the statute according to its literal meaning. Miller v. Aiken, 364 S.C. 303, 307, 613 S.E.2d 364, 366 (2005); Carolina Power & Light Co. v. City of Bennettsville, 314 S.C. 137, 139, 442 S.E.2d 177, 179 (1994); Jones v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 364 S.C. 222, 231, 612 S.E.2d 719, 723 (Ct.App.2005). If a statute's language is unambiguous and clear, there is no need to employ the rules of statutory construction and this Court has no right to look for or...

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