State v. Major, 23182

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtTOAL; GREGORY; FINNEY; FINNEY
Citation301 S.C. 181,391 S.E.2d 235
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Jimmy MAJOR, Appellant. . Heard
Docket NumberNo. 23182,23182
Decision Date06 December 1989

Page 235

391 S.E.2d 235
301 S.C. 181
The STATE, Respondent,
Jimmy MAJOR, Appellant.
No. 23182.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard Dec. 6, 1989.
Decided March 19, 1990.

Page 236

[301 S.C. 182] Chief Atty. David I. Bruck and Deputy Chief Atty. Elizabeth C. Fullwood, S.C. Office of Appellate Defense, Columbia, for appellant.

Atty. Gen. T. Travis Medlock, Asst. Attys. General Harold M. Coombs, Jr., and William Edgar Salter, III, Columbia, and Sol. Dudley Saleeby, Jr., Florence, for respondent.

TOAL, Justice:

We address two issues in this appeal: (1) whether the offense of simple possession of cocaine is a crime of "moral turpitude"; and (2) whether the appellant placed his good character into issue such that a prior conviction could be introduced into evidence.


The appellant, Jimmy Major, was convicted for the offenses of distribution of crack cocaine and distribution of crack cocaine within a one mile radius of a school ground. We affirm his convictions.

On April 28, 1988, Officers Douglas Pernell and Mike Buxton were conducting undercover drug operations in the City of Olanta, South Carolina. Officer Pernell testified that he met Major that day in the "Quarters," an area of Olanta targeted by the police for drug "sting" operations. Officer [301 S.C. 183] Pernell stated that he had met Major several times before in this same area. In their April 28th meeting, Officer Pernell testified, Major offered to sell him some "rock" cocaine for twenty-five dollars. Officer Pernell agreed and the sale was made, after which Pernell took the cocaine, dated and labeled it, and filed a report. Pernell

Page 237

testified that he was face-to-face with the appellant and that he was positive that he had identified the right individual.

Officer Buxton substantiated Pernell's testimony, stating that on April 28, 1988, Pernell delivered a quantity of cocaine to him, stating that he had bought it from a subject by the name of Jimmy Major. Buxton also testified that a schoolhouse was within three hundred yards of the drug sale.

In defense, Officer Pernell's memory was attacked, and Major presented his sister as an alibi witness. Major then took the stand himself, testifying that he had never seen Officer Pernell before, and that he was with his sister at the time of the alleged crime.



Whether Major's prior conviction for simple possession of cocaine can be introduced into evidence is the focus of this appeal. In a brief hearing before Major took the stand, the solicitor agreed that he would not seek to introduce Major's prior possession conviction as a crime of moral turpitude. It was recognized during the hearing that this Court has previously held that simple possession of cocaine is not a crime of "moral turpitude." See State v. Ball, 292 S.C. 71, 354 S.E.2d 906 (1987). We now revisit this question, and we overrule Ball.

When an accused takes the stand, he becomes subject to impeachment, like any other witness. Regardless of whether the accused offers evidence of his good character, an accused who takes the stand may be cross-examined about "past transactions tending to affect his credibility." State v. Allen, 266 S.C. 468, 482, 224 S.E.2d 881, 886 (1976).

[301 S.C. 184] These "past transactions" are divided into two categories. First, the accused may be asked about prior bad acts, not the subject of a conviction, which go to his credibility. The cross-examiner must take the accused's answer concerning these alleged acts, however, and if the accused denies them, he may not be contradicted. Allen, 266 S.C. at 482-83, 224 S.E.2d at 886. Second, the accused may be impeached by the introduction into evidence of convictions for crimes of moral turpitude, since they too are past transactions tending to affect credibility. Taylor v. State, 258 S.C. 369, 188 S.E.2d 850 (1972).

In State v. Ball, 292 S.C. 71, 354 S.E.2d 906 (1987), we held that the crime of possession of cocaine was not a crime of moral turpitude since it involved "primarily self-destructive behavior." 292 S.C. at 74, 354 S.E.2d at 908. We noted in Ball that, "[i]n determining whether a crime is one involving moral turpitude, the Court focuses primarily on the duty to society and fellow men which is breached by the commission of the crime." 292 S.C. at 74, 354 S.E.2d at 908.

We retain the test articulated in Ball for determining whether a crime qualifies as one of "moral turpitude", but we overrule Ball because of its holding regarding cocaine possession. The drug "cocaine" has torn at the very fabric of our nation. Families have been ripped apart, minds have been ruined, and lives have been lost. It is common knowledge that the drug is highly addictive and potentially fatal. The addictive nature of the drug, combined with its expense, has caused our prisons to swell with those who have been motivated to support...

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    ...153 (Fla. 1988); Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v. Denton, 598 P.2d 663, 665 (Okla. 1979); In re Gibson, 393 S.E.2d 184 (S.C. 1990); State v. Major, 391 S.E.2d 235, 237 (S.C. 1990); In re Hopp, 376 N.W.2d 816, 818 (S.D. 1985); In re Willis, 371 N.W.2d 794, 796 (S.D. 1985); see also In re Thomas, 472 N.......
  • State v. Young, 3983.
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    • 2 May 2005
    ...S.E.2d 315 (1991), although it never uses the open door language, is often cited for the door-opening doctrine. See, e.g., State v. Major, 301 S.C. 181, 391 S.E.2d 235 (1990); State v. Plath, 281 S.C. 1, 313 S.E.2d 619 (1984); State v. Doby, 273 S.C. 704, 258 S.E.2d 896 (1979). In Allen, th......
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    • 10 March 1995
    ...appeal Poston argues the trial judge erred in allowing this testimony as it was improper impeachment testimony pursuant to State v. Major, 301 S.C. 181, 391 S.E.2d 235 (1990) 8 and State v. Drew, 281 S.C. 440, 316 S.E.2d 367 (1984). 9 We do not consider this issue, as raised in Poston's bri......
  • Arias v. Lynch, 14–2839
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    ...thin. In South Carolina, for example, simple possession of cocaine is classified as a crime involving moral turpitude, State v. Major, 301 S.C. 181, 391 S.E.2d 235, 237 (1990), but simple possession of marijuana is not. State v. Harvey, 275 S.C. 225, 268 S.E.2d 587, 588 (1980). An alien con......
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