State v. Gracely

Decision Date29 August 2012
Docket NumberNo. 27165.,27165.
Citation731 S.E.2d 880,399 S.C. 363
Parties The STATE, Respondent, v. Anthony GRACELY, Appellant.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

Chief Appellate Defender Robert M. Dudek, South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, of Columbia, and Reid T. Sherard, of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, of Greenville, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Assistant Attorney General Joshua Richard Underwood, all of Office of the Attorney General, of Columbia, and, Solicitor William Walter Wilkins, III, of Greenville, all for Respondent.

Chief Justice TOAL.

Anthony Gracely (Appellant) appeals his conviction for conspiracy to traffic four hundred grams or more of methamphetamine in violation of section 44–53–375 of the South Carolina Code. Appellant argues that the circuit court improperly limited his cross-examination of the State's witnesses, thereby violating his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution. Appellant also argues that the State did not present sufficient evidence to support his conviction. We reverse.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In 2008 the State Grand Jury (SGJ) began an investigation, titled "Vanilla Ice," after a resident of Pickens County approached law enforcement and provided information regarding the sale of methamphetamine within the community. On June 10, 2009, the SGJ returned an Indictment alleging fifty-two separate crimes against various individuals. Count Two of the Indictment alleged that Appellant conspired to sell "more than four hundred grams of methamphetamine."1 At trial, the State relied on a "historical" case, in which the central evidence presented was in the form of testimony from seven individuals also named in the Indictment. The State offered the testimony of Frank Posey, Brian Stegall, Kimberly Taylor, Joel Hall, Stacey Anderson, Ernest Craft, and Lance Halloway. The defense sought to show the potential bias of each witness by presenting to the jury information regarding the significantly lighter sentences these witnesses received in exchange for their testimony.

Counts One and Two of the Indictment alleged that Frank Posey conspired to traffic four hundred grams or more of methamphetamine. Defense counsel asked Posey whether trafficking four hundred grams or more of methamphetamine carried a minimum of twenty-five years' and up to thirty years' imprisonment. Posey replied "true." The State objected, and the court instructed defense counsel that the State's witnesses could be questioned about the maximum punishment, but not the mandatory minimum punishment, for those charges they had in common with Appellant. Posey admitted under cross-examination that the State allowed him to plead guilty to a first offense of trafficking ten to twenty-eight grams of methamphetamine in exchange for his cooperation. The state recommended a sentence of five years' imprisonment.

Count One of the Indictment alleged that Bryan Stegall conspired to traffic four hundred grams of methamphetamine. Count Forty-four of the Indictment alleged that Stegall distributed methamphetamine on March 19, 2008.2 Stegall testified that Appellant would "front"3 him methamphetamine for his own use, and to sell on Appellant's behalf. Stegall testified that he would also bring other individuals to Appellant to buy methamphetamine, and in return Appellant would give Stegall a proportionate amount of drugs. Stegall testified that, in exchange for his cooperation, the State allowed him to plead guilty to a first offense of trafficking ten grams, but less than twenty-eight grams, of methamphetamine. This charge carried a sentence of no less than three years but a maximum of ten years' imprisonment. Additionally, the State allowed Stegall to plead guilty to a first offense of distribution of methamphetamine, despite previous convictions for possession and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Stegall testified that he originally faced up to thirty years' imprisonment for trafficking more than four hundred grams of methamphetamine and that he could have been charged in Count Two, with Appellant, and faced up to another thirty years' imprisonment. Defense counsel also elicited testimony from Stegall that he would have faced another thirty years' imprisonment because the current charges would have constituted his third offense for distribution of methamphetamine. Instead, the State recommended that Stegall receive a fifteen year sentence for these charges in exchange for his testimony.

Following Stegall's testimony, defense counsel requested the trial court reconsider the cross-examination limitations. According to the defense, it was critical to present to the jury the possible credibility issues with a witness that they knew would go to jail "for twenty-five years at eighty-five percent." The State argued that revealing the mandatory minimum sentence would prejudice the prosecution because the jury would understand that "they're going to be putting a man in jail for twenty-five years." The court agreed with the State:

Well, I believe that ... with your skills that you'll be able to cross examine these witnesses sufficiently, showing the amount of time they could get. I believe to bring up a minimum sentence, even though your intent is to impeach this witness, the ripple effect is that it's going to, I think, prejudice the State because of what the jury is going to now have in their mind, that if we convict this person, it's going to be a twenty-five year [sentence].

The court also ruled that defense counsel could question the State's witnesses regarding the mandatory minimum sentences they avoided for those crimes in which the Appellant was not also charged.

Count Three of the Indictment alleged that Kimberly Taylor conspired to traffic four hundred or more grams of methamphetamine. Counts Twenty-two and Twenty-three of the Indictment alleged that Taylor knowingly distributed methamphetamine on May 19 and June 2, 2008. Taylor testified that she purchased methamphetamine from Lance Holloway, and that Appellant provided Holloway drugs for re-distribution and sale. She described a drug transaction in which Appellant provided two ounces of methamphetamine to Holloway and in turn Taylor purchased one of those ounces to use and resell. Taylor also testified that Holloway and Gracely sold Taylor's ex-boyfriend an ounce of methamphetamine for $1,600. In exchange for her cooperation, Taylor pled guilty to a second offense of trafficking twenty-eight to one hundred grams of methamphetamine and received a twenty year sentence. Taylor admitted to three prior convictions for drugs including cocaine and marijuana. Taylor admitted under cross-examination that she did not identify Appellant until after accepting a plea deal. Defense counsel also pointed out that Taylor faced a minimum of thirty years' and a maximum of ninety years' imprisonment before accepting a plea deal for a twenty year sentence in exchange for cooperating with the State.

Counts Two and Three of the Indictment alleged that Joel Hall conspired to traffic four hundred or more grams of methamphetamine. Counts Twenty-five, Twenty-six, and Twenty-seven of the Indictment alleged that Hall distributed methamphetamine on April 1, 22, and 30, 2008. Hall testified that on one occasion he purchased half an ounce of methamphetamine from Appellant. In exchange for his cooperation, the State allowed Hall to plead guilty to a first offense of trafficking ten to twenty-eight grams of methamphetamine and a first offense of distribution of methamphetamine, and gave Hall a favorable sentencing recommendation of ten years' imprisonment. Hall had previously been convicted of possession of marijuana and obtaining controlled substances through fraud. Defense counsel pointed out that Hall faced a minimum of fifteen years' imprisonment, and a possibility of over one hundred years' imprisonment if convicted of the original charges.

Count Two of the Indictment alleged that Stacey Anderson conspired to traffic four hundred or more grams of methamphetamine. Counts Nine and Ten of the Indictment alleged that Anderson distributed methamphetamine on February 10 and May 7, 2008. Anderson testified that he regularly sold methamphetamine for $1,450 per ounce, and that Appellant owed him $7,300 for methamphetamine. In exchange for his testimony, Anderson pled guilty to trafficking twenty-eight to one hundred grams of methamphetamine and a first offense of distribution of methamphetamme. Anderson received this deal despite his prior convictions for possession with intent to distribute. Anderson testified that in exchange for his cooperation he would receive a fifteen year prison sentence to run concurrently with federal gun charges.

Count Two of the Indictment alleged that Ernest Craft conspired to traffic four hundred or more grams of methamphetamine. Count Twenty-one of the Indictment alleged that Craft distributed methamphetamine on June 5, 2008. Craft testified that he observed methamphetamine in Appellant's possession, and witnessed Appellant sell methamphetamine. Craft also testified that Anderson supplied Appellant with methamphetamine. Because he cooperated with the State's prosecution of Appellant, Craft pled guilty to trafficking a lesser amount of methamphetamine, twenty-eight to one hundred grams. Craft also pled guilty to a first offense of distribution of methamphetamine despite numerous prior convictions for possession of methamphetamine. Defense counsel pointed out that Craft faced sixty years' imprisonment before the State offered him a fifteen year sentence in exchange for his cooperation.

Counts Two and Three of the Indictment alleged that Lance Holloway conspired to traffic four hundred grams of methamphetamine. Count Twenty of the Indictment alleged that Holloway distributed methamphetamine on...

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