State v. Bryant, No. 26183.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtToal
Citation633 S.E.2d 152
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent. v. Thomas BRYANT, Petitioner.
Decision Date17 July 2006
Docket NumberNo. 26183.
633 S.E.2d 152
The STATE, Respondent.
v.
Thomas BRYANT, Petitioner.
No. 26183.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard November 15, 2005.
Decided July 17, 2006.
Rehearing Denied August 11, 2006.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Assistant Appellate Defender Robert M. Dudek, of South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, Division of Appellate Defense, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Attorney General Derrick K. McFarland, and Solicitor Warren B. Giese, all of Columbia, for Respondent.

Chief Justice TOAL:


We granted Petitioner a writ of certiorari to review State v. Bryant, 356 S.C. 485, 589 S.E.2d 775 (Ct.App.2003), in which the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's admission of Petitioner's two prior firearms convictions. We reverse.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Petitioner has been confined to a wheelchair for over twenty years due to a car accident. On July 22, 1999, he was visiting the Bottoms Up strip club, where he met the victim, Daniel Fletcher Austin. At approximately 3:30 a.m., the two left the club together to go back to Petitioner's hotel room.

Between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m., as he was leaving his room to go to work, Kevin Hawkins saw Petitioner alone in the corridor. Petitioner asked Hawkins to get him help because he said he had been injured in a physical altercation. Hawkins informed the front desk clerk of Petitioner's claims. As the clerk called the sheriff's department, she heard shots. Immediately before calling the sheriff, the clerk testified she had given Austin a key to Petitioner's room.

The police arrived and found Austin lying in the breezeway shot six times and bleeding. A stand-off ensued between the police and Petitioner which lasted 20-25 minutes. The stand-off ended when a SWAT team rushed Petitioner's room and found Petitioner on the floor with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his stomach.

Petitioner was convicted of murder and the unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to life without parole for the murder and five years concurrent for the weapons charge.

ISSUE

Did the circuit court err in admitting Petitioner's prior firearms convictions?

LAW/ANALYSIS

At trial, prior to Petitioner testifying, the State sought to introduce evidence that Petitioner had previously been convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 1984, shoplifting in 1992, a bad check charge in 1994, possession of a unlawful weapon by a convicted felon in 1997, and pointing and presenting a firearm in 1998. Petitioner did not object to the admission of the shoplifting or bad check convictions. He argued, however, that the manslaughter conviction should be excluded because it was more than ten years old. As to the two weapons convictions, Petitioner argued they did not have anything to do with truthfulness and thus their probative value was low. He further argued that their similarity

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to the current charges caused their admission to be highly prejudicial.

The State contends the convictions were offered to impeach Petitioner and to show "the defendant continues to get in trouble even after 1990. Every two years, he commits at least two crimes." The trial judge allowed the firearms convictions to be introduced, and although the manslaughter conviction itself was not introduced, Petitioner stipulated he had been convicted of a violent crime in 1984.

The court of appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions in a 2:1 decision. Bryant, 356 S.C. 485, 589 S.E.2d 775. Relying on Green v. State, 338 S.C. 428, 527 S.E.2d 98 (2000), the majority reviewed the trial court's statements as a whole and concluded that the trial court had an appropriate reason to admit the evidence "based on [the trial court's] belief the testimony could lead to an inference [Petitioner] was unworthy of credibility because of his prior convictions." Bryant, 356 S.C. at 491, 589 S.E.2d at 776.

Noting the importance of "[Petitioner's] testimony to his defense, and the state's burden of discounting his testimony to prove the elements of murder," the Court of Appeals nonetheless held the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in admitting Petitioner's prior convictions to impeach his credibility. Id. at 492, 589 S.E.2d at 779. Judge Beatty dissented and stated he believed the prior convictions were improper character evidence and should not have been admitted. Id. at 496, 589 S.E.2d at 781. He also concluded that the admission was not harmless because there was not overwhelming evidence of Petitioner's guilt. Id.

This Court has held that a trial judge must conduct a balancing test to determine whether remote convictions are admissible under Rule 609(b), SCRE. State v. Colf, 337 S.C. 622, 626, 525 S.E.2d 246, 248 (2000). Rule 609(b) creates a presumption that remote convictions are inadmissible and places the burden on the State to overcome this presumption. Id. When considering whether to admit prior convictions, a trial judge should consider the following factors:

(1) The impeachment value of the prior crime;

(2) The point in time of the conviction and the witness's subsequent history;

(3) The similarity of the past crime and the charged crime;

(4) The importance of the defendant's testimony; and

(5) The centrality of the credibility issue.

Id. at 627, 525 S.E.2d at 248. After the trial court conducts the balancing test, the judge must make a determination and articulate, on the record, the specific reasons for his ruling. Id. Specifically, the trial judge must articulate why the probative value of the prior conviction outweighs its prejudicial effect. State v. Johnson, 363 S.C. 53, 59-60, 609 S.E.2d 520 (2005).1

Under Rule 609(a)(2), SCRE, if a crime is viewed as one involving dishonesty, the court must admit the prior conviction because, prior convictions involving dishonesty or false statement must be admitted regardless of their probative value or prejudicial effect. Thus, Petitioner's convictions for shoplifting and writing bad checks were properly admitted and Petitioner does not dispute this. The issue is whether the prior firearms convictions involve dishonesty or false statements so as to be admissible without weighing the probative value of their admission with its prejudicial effect.

Violations of narcotics laws are generally not probative of truthfulness. See State v. Cheeseboro, 346 S.C. 526, 552 S.E.2d 300 S.C. (2001) (citing State v. Aleksey, 343 S.C. 20, 538 S.E.2d 248 (2000)). Furthermore, a conviction for robbery, burglary, theft, and drug possession, beyond the basic crime itself, is not probative of truthfulness.

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United States v. Smith, 181 F.Supp.2d 904 (N.D.Ill.2002). Likewise, firearms violations also are not generally probative of truthfulness. Accordingly, Petitioner's prior firearms convictions do not involve dishonesty and their probative value should have been weighed against their prejudicial effect prior to their admission pursuant to Rule 609(a)(1).

In admitting the prior firearms convictions, the trial judge noted that "the fact that he may tend to get in trouble from time to time, while it has a certain amount of prejudice in it, also, does include that issue of whether or not he's worthy of belief." The trial judge did not address the similarity of the prior convictions to the current charges as required by Colf. Additionally, we note that when the prior offense is similar to the offense for which the...

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52 practice notes
  • State v. Lyles, No. 4406.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 6 Junio 2008
    ...not affecting the result." State v. Kelley, 319 S.C. 173, 179, 460 S.E.2d 368, 371 (1995); accord; State v. Bryant, 369 S.C. 511, 518, 633 S.E.2d 152, 156 (2006); State v. Bailey, 298 S.C. 1, 5, 377 S.E.2d 581, 584 (1989) (citing State v. Livingston, 282 S.C. 1, 6, 317 S.E.2d 129, 132 After......
  • State v. Simmons, No. 4569.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 17 Junio 2009
    ...statements while in custody conclusively prove his guilt, regardless of Ms. Richmond's testimony. See State v. Bryant, 369 S.C. 511, 518, 633 S.E.2d 152, 156 (2006) (holding that an insubstantial error not affecting the result of the trial is harmless when a defendant's guilt has been concl......
  • State v. Black, No. 27176.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 3 Octubre 2012
    ...facts and circumstances to overcome the presumption against the admissibility of remote convictions. State v. Bryant, 369 S.C. 511, 633 S.E.2d 152 (2006); State v. Colf, 337 S.C. 622, 525 S.E.2d 246 (2000). The standard in Rule 609(b) pertaining to remote convictions is higher than the stan......
  • State v. Reyes, Appellate Case No. 2019-001593
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 16 Diciembre 2020
    ...can be reached." State v. Collins , 409 S.C. 524, 538, 763 S.E.2d 22, 29-30 (2014) (quoting State v. Bryant , 369 S.C. 511, 518, 633 S.E.2d 152, 156 (2006) ). Thus, "overwhelming evidence" of a defendant's guilt is a relevant consideration in the harmless error analysis. See State v. Kromah......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
53 cases
  • State v. Lyles, No. 4406.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 6 Junio 2008
    ...not affecting the result." State v. Kelley, 319 S.C. 173, 179, 460 S.E.2d 368, 371 (1995); accord; State v. Bryant, 369 S.C. 511, 518, 633 S.E.2d 152, 156 (2006); State v. Bailey, 298 S.C. 1, 5, 377 S.E.2d 581, 584 (1989) (citing State v. Livingston, 282 S.C. 1, 6, 317 S.E.2d 129, 132 After......
  • State v. Simmons, No. 4569.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 17 Junio 2009
    ...statements while in custody conclusively prove his guilt, regardless of Ms. Richmond's testimony. See State v. Bryant, 369 S.C. 511, 518, 633 S.E.2d 152, 156 (2006) (holding that an insubstantial error not affecting the result of the trial is harmless when a defendant's guilt has been concl......
  • State v. Black, No. 27176.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 3 Octubre 2012
    ...facts and circumstances to overcome the presumption against the admissibility of remote convictions. State v. Bryant, 369 S.C. 511, 633 S.E.2d 152 (2006); State v. Colf, 337 S.C. 622, 525 S.E.2d 246 (2000). The standard in Rule 609(b) pertaining to remote convictions is higher than the stan......
  • State v. Reyes, Appellate Case No. 2019-001593
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 16 Diciembre 2020
    ...can be reached." State v. Collins , 409 S.C. 524, 538, 763 S.E.2d 22, 29-30 (2014) (quoting State v. Bryant , 369 S.C. 511, 518, 633 S.E.2d 152, 156 (2006) ). Thus, "overwhelming evidence" of a defendant's guilt is a relevant consideration in the harmless error analysis. See State v. Kromah......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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