State v. Dent

Docket Number6034,Appellate Case 2018-001257
Decision Date08 November 2023
PartiesThe State, Respondent, v. Charles Dent, Appellant.
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals

Submitted September 6, 2023

Appeal From Beaufort County Alex Kinlaw, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

E Charles Grose, Jr., of Grose Law Firm, of Greenwood, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Scott Matthews, both of Columbia; and Solicitor Isaac McDuffie Stone, III, of Bluffton, all for Respondent.

WILLIAMS, C.J.

In this criminal matter on remand from the South Carolina Supreme Court,[1] Charles Dent appeals his convictions for first degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor and disseminating obscene material to a minor. We affirm.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In August 2014, following the procurement of warrants by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Department, Dent was arrested at his home in Alabama for various charges stemming from alleged sexual abuse of his granddaughter (Victim).[2] At the time of the alleged abuse, Victim lived in South Carolina with her mother (Mother) and her brother. Victim and her family lived in South Carolina from 2012 through 2014, and Dent would periodically stay with them.[3] During this period, Victim and her family lived in two different townhouses on the same street (House One and House Two).

In May 2014, Mother began dating John Camelo. Thereafter, Victim made an initial disclosure of abuse by Dent to Camelo. Camelo notified Mother, and Mother reported the abuse to law enforcement. Thereafter, Victim underwent a forensic interview at Hopeful Horizons regarding her initial disclosure (First Interview). Following the interview, Victim made a second disclosure of abuse by Dent to Camelo. Victim subsequently went to Hopeful Horizons for a second forensic interview (Second Interview).

In October 2014, a Beaufort County grand jury indicted Dent with two charges of first degree CSC with a minor (2014-GS-07-01673; 2014-GS-07-01674) (the CSC Indictments) and two charges of disseminating obscene material to a minor (2014-GS-07-01671; 2014-GS-07-01672) (the Dissemination Indictments).

Prior to trial, Dent moved to quash the Dissemination Indictments, and the trial court denied his motion. In May 2018, the case proceeded to trial during which Victim and Dent both testified.[4] The jury found Dent guilty of both dissemination charges and one charge of first degree CSC, and the trial court sentenced him to an aggregate term of thirty years' imprisonment.[5] Dent subsequently moved for a new trial, and the court denied his motion. This appeal followed.

ISSUES ON APPEAL

I. Did the trial court err in failing to quash the Dissemination Indictments?

II. Did the trial court err in admitting photographs of Victim?

III. Did the trial court err in admitting Tessa Trask's expert testimony?

IV. Did the trial court err in admitting Camelo's testimony?

V. Did the trial court violate Dent's Sixth Amendment rights in sustaining the State's objection to Dent's cross-examination of Camelo?

VI. Did the trial court err in denying Dent's motion for a directed verdict on one of the CSC Indictments?

VII. Did the trial court err in instructing the jury on the definition of sexual battery?

VIII. Is Dent entitled to a new trial pursuant to the cumulative error doctrine?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In criminal cases, the appellate court reviews the underlying matter for an abuse of discretion, which occurs when the findings of the trial court lack evidentiary support or are controlled by an error of law. State v. Hopkins, 431 S.C. 560, 56869, 848 S.E.2d 368, 372 (Ct. App. 2020).

LAW/ANALYSIS

I. Failure to Quash Indictments

Dent argues the trial court erred in failing to quash the Dissemination Indictments because the State failed to follow the procedural requirements established in sections 16-15-305 and 16-15-435 of the South Carolina Code (2015), which require the solicitor's office to apply for any relevant arrest and search warrants. Dent therefore contends the trial court erred in failing to suppress the photographs collected from electronic devices obtained from the search of Dent's home. Additionally, Dent asserts the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict on the Dissemination Indictments because the State failed to comply with the aforementioned statutory prerequisites. We disagree.

"The indictment is a notice document." State v Gentry, 363 S.C. 93, 102, 610 S.E.2d 494, 500 (2005). "A challenge to the sufficiency of an indictment must be made before the jury is sworn." State v. Tumbleston, 376 S.C. 90, 96, 654 S.E.2d 849, 852 (Ct. App. 2007). "A ruling on a timely objection . . . that an indictment is not sufficient will result in the quashing of the indictment unless the defendant waives presentment to the grand jury and pleads guilty." Id. at 97, 654 S.E.2d at 853. "[A]n indictment passes legal muster when it charges the crime substantially in the language of the statute prohibiting the crime or so plainly that the nature of the offense charged may be easily understood." Id. at 98, 654 S.E.2d at 853.

After the Beaufort County Sheriff's Department obtained search and arrest warrants, a grand jury indicted Dent for multiple counts of first degree CSC with a minor and dissemination of obscene material to a minor. As to the Dissemination Indictments, Dent was specifically indicted for violating section 16-15-355 of the South Carolina Code (2015). Section 16-15-355 provides:

An individual eighteen years of age or older who knowingly disseminates to a minor twelve years of age or younger material which he knows or reasonably should know to be obscene within the meaning of Section 16-15-305 is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, must be imprisoned for not more than fifteen years.

Prior to trial, Dent moved to quash the Dissemination Indictments, asserting they were defective because the solicitor did not obtain the search and arrest warrants as required by subsection 16-15-435(A), which states "[a] search warrant or arrest warrant for a violation of Sections 16-15-305, 16-15-315, or 16-15-325 may be issued only upon request of a circuit solicitor." The trial court denied Dent's motion.

The trial court properly refused to quash the Dissemination Indictments. Although subsection 16-15-435(A) does require a circuit solicitor to obtain the search or arrest warrants for a statutory violation, it clearly states such a requirement only applies to violations of sections 16-15-305, 16-15-315, and 16-15-325. The Dissemination Indictments indicate Dent violated section 16-15-355. Therefore, subsection 16-15-435(A) does not apply, and Dent's argument is without merit. Further, the indictments provided sufficient notice of the crimes charged as required by our precedent. See Gentry, 363 S.C. at 102, 610 S.E.2d at 500 ("The indictment is a notice document."); Tumbleston, 376 S.C. at 98, 654 S.E.2d at 853 ("[A]n indictment passes legal muster when it charges the crime substantially in the language of the statute prohibiting the crime or so plainly that the nature of the offense charged may be easily understood."). Accordingly, we affirm the trial court on this issue.[6]

II. Admission of Photographs

Dent argues the trial court erred in admitting photographs of Victim when the photographs were not relevant and the State failed to authenticate them or establish a chain of custody. Specifically, Dent argues the trial court erred in admitting State's Exhibits 1, 3, and 4 (Group One Photos) because they were not relevant to establishing his guilt. Dent also asserts the trial court erred in admitting State's Exhibits 6, 11, 13, and 15 (Group Two Photos) because the prejudicial effect substantially outweighed any probative value. We disagree.

During the search of Dent's home in Alabama, law enforcement seized multiple electronic devices that were in plain view, including a camera and a camcorder. Law enforcement subsequently obtained a search warrant for the seized electronic devices and recovered various photographs of Victim. The State originally sought to introduce evidence of child pornography found on Dent's seized computer but ultimately decided not to present it. The State additionally sought to admit the photos of Victim found on Dent's camera and camcorder and proffered testimony from two Alabama law enforcement officials. However, the trial court found the State failed to properly authenticate the photos because the former law enforcement official who extracted the photos was unavailable to testify at trial. The State then sought to admit the photos through Victim's testimony and recalled her as a witness, and the trial court admitted the photos.[7]

During her testimony, Victim identified herself in each of the photos and verified the photos were taken at Houses One and Two when she lived in South Carolina from 2012 to 2014. The Group One Photos included three photos of Victim: (1) Victim at House 2 on her birthday (State's Ex. 1), (2) Victim cooking with Dent in the kitchen of House One (State's Ex. 3), and (3) Victim with Dent's pet rabbit in the guest bedroom where Dent stayed in House Two (State's Ex 4). The Group Two Photos were more sexual in nature, but Victim was clothed in all of the photos. The Group Two Photos included three photos in which Victim was lying on a bean bag with her legs spread and pulled up towards her shoulders (State's Ex. 11) and standing facing the camera with her torso bent forwards with a view down her shirt (State's Ex. 6, 13). This group of photos also contained an image of a young girl's legs (State's Ex. 15). Victim identified herself in the photo, stating she recognized the green shorts she wore to her dance classes that she...

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