State v. McKnight, No. 25585.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Citation576 S.E.2d 168,352 S.C. 635
Decision Date27 January 2003
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Regina D. McKNIGHT, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 25585.

352 S.C. 635
576 S.E.2d 168

The STATE, Respondent,
v.
Regina D. McKNIGHT, Appellant

No. 25585.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard November 6, 2002.

Decided January 27, 2003.


352 S.C. 640
C. Rauch Wise, of Greenwood, Jodie L. Kelley, Matthew Hersh, Oliver A. Sylvain, all of Washington, and Lynn M. Paltrow, of New York, for appellant

Attorney General Charles M. Condon, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Charles H. Richardson, Senior Assistant Attorney General Norman Mark Rapoport, all of Columbia, and John Gregory Hembree, of Conway, for respondent.

Joseph M. McCulloch, Jr., of Columbia, Judith K. Appel and Daniel N. Abrahamson, of Oakland, Susan King Dunn, of Charleston, and William S. Bernstein, of New York, for amicus curiae.

JUSTICE WALLER:

Appellant, Regina McKnight was convicted of homicide by child abuse; she was sentenced to twenty years, suspended upon service of twelve years. We affirm.

FACTS

On May 15, 1999, McKnight gave birth to a stillborn fivepound baby girl. The baby's gestational age was estimated to be between 34-37 weeks old. An autopsy revealed the presence of benzoylecgonine, a substance which is metabolized by cocaine. The pathologist, Dr. Proctor, testified that the only way for the infant to have the substance present was through cocaine, and that the cocaine had to have come from the mother.1 Dr. Proctor testified that the baby died one to three

352 S.C. 641
days prior to delivery. Dr. Proctor determined the cause of death to be intrauterine fetal demise with mild chorioamnionitis, funisitis2 and cocaine consumption. He ruled the death a homicide. McKnight was indicted for homicide by child abuse. A first trial held Jan. 8-12, 2002 resulted in a mistrial.3 At the second trial held May 14-16, 2001, the jury returned a guilty verdict. McKnight was sentenced to twenty years, suspended to service of twelve years
ISSUES
1. Did the Court err in refusing to direct a verdict on the grounds that a) there was insufficient evidence of the cause of death, b) there was no evidence of criminal intent, and c) there was no evidence the baby was viable when McKnight ingested cocaine?
2. Did the Court err in refusing to dismiss the homicide by child abuse indictment on the grounds that a) the more specific criminal abortion statute governs, b) the statute does not apply to the facts of this case, and c) the legislature did not intend the statute to apply to fetuses?
3. Does application of the homicide by child abuse statute to McKnight violate her due process right of adequate notice?
4. Does application of the homicide by child abuse statute to McKnight violate her constitutional right to privacy?
5. Did the trial court err in refusing to dismiss the indictment on eighth amendment cruel and unusual punishment grounds?
6. Does application of the homicide by child abuse statute to McKnight violate equal protection?
352 S.C. 642
7. Did the trial court err in refusing to exclude evidence of the results of a urine specimen taken from McKnight shortly after the stillbirth, on grounds that the specimen was obtained in violation of her fourth amendment rights?

1. DIRECTED VERDICT

McKnight asserts the trial court erred in refusing to direct a verdict for her on the grounds that a) there was insufficient evidence of the cause of death, b) there was no evidence of criminal intent, and c) there was no evidence the baby was viable when McKnight ingested the cocaine. We disagree.

A defendant is entitled to a directed verdict when the State fails to produce evidence of the offense charged. State v. McHoney, 344 S.C. 85, 97, 544 S.E.2d 30, 36 (2001). In reviewing a motion for directed verdict, the trial judge is concerned with the existence of the evidence, not with its weight. State v. Mitchell, 341 S.C. 406, 409, 535 S.E.2d 126, 127 (2000). On appeal from the denial of a directed verdict, an appellate court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State. State v. Burdette, 335 S.C. 34, 46, 515 S.E.2d 525, 531 (1999). 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. State v. Pinckney, 339 S.C. 346, 529 S.E.2d 526 (2000).

a. Cause of Death

McKnight asserts the state failed to introduce sufficient evidence demonstrating that cocaine caused the stillbirth. We disagree.

Dr. Proctor, who performed the autopsy and who was qualified as an expert in criminal pathology, testified that the only way for the infant to have benzoylecgonine present was through cocaine, and that the cocaine had to have come from the mother. Dr. Proctor determined the cause of death to be intrauterine fetal demise with mild chorioamnionitis, funisitis and cocaine consumption. Dr. Proctor ruled the death a homicide.

352 S.C. 643
Another pathologist, Dr. Woodward, who was qualified as an expert in pediatric pathology testified that the gestational age of the infant was between 35-37 weeks, and that it was viable. He then described how one determines the cause of death of a viable fetus, by looking for abnormalities, placental defects, infections, and the chemical constituency of the child. He explained the effect that cocaine would have on both an adult and a child. He testified that the placenta was the major heart-lung machine while the baby was inutero and that cocaine usage can produce degeneration of the small blood vessels in the placenta. He stated that he found areas of pinkish red degeneration of the blood vessels which were consistent with cocaine exposure. He testified that he did not see any other indications of the cause of death, and found a lack of evidence of other infections, lack of other abnormalities, otherwise normal development of the child, it's size, weight, and lung development. Although Dr. Woodward agreed with Dr. Proctor that chorioamnionitis and mild funisitis were present, he testified that to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, those conditions had not caused the death of the infant. He also opined that neither syphilis, nor placental abruption killed the infant. He concluded that, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, the cause of death was intrauterine cocaine exposure. Although Woodward could not say the exact mechanism by which the cocaine had killed the infant, he testified the mechanisms through cardiac function, placental functions, are seen as most probable. On crossexam, Woodward testified that he believed the death was caused solely by the cocaine effect, and that the drugs could have caused the baby's heart to stop, or to have caused the baby's heart to rise precipitously putting the baby in congestive heart failure. He explained the lack of abnormalities in the heart found by Dr. Proctor's autopsy, stating, I wouldn't expect to see specific indices in the heart if the heart just stopped or if the heart went into congestive heart failure. Finally, Woodward testified he had seen both children and adults dead with less benzoylecgonine in their systems than McKnight's baby

Although McKnight's expert, Dr. Conradi, would not testify that cocaine had caused the stillbirth, she did testify that cocaine had been in the baby at one point. She also ruled out

352 S.C. 644
the possibility of chorioamnionitis, funisitis or syphilis as the cause of death.

Viewing the expert testimony in the light most favorable to the state, we find sufficient evidence to withstand a directed verdict. McHoney, supra. Any defect in the expert testimony went to its weight, a defect McKnight was free to challenge with her own evidence.

b. Criminal Intent

McKnight next asserts she was entitled to a directed verdict as the state failed to prove she had the requisite criminal intent to commit homicide by child abuse. We disagree.

Under S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-85(A), a person is guilty of homicide by child abuse if the person causes the death of a child under the age of eleven while committing child abuse or neglect, and the death occurs under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life. McKnight claims there is no evidence she acted with extreme indifference to human life as there was no evidence of how likely cocaine is to cause stillbirth, or that she knew the risk that her use of cocaine could result in the stillbirth of her child.

Recently, in State v. Jarrell, 350 S.C. 90, 97, 564 S.E.2d 362, 366 (Ct.App.2002), the Court of Appeals defined extreme indifference, as used in the homicide by child abuse statute, stating:

In this state, indifference in the context of criminal statutes has been compared to the conscious act of disregarding a risk which a person's conduct has created, or a failure to exercise ordinary or due care. See State v. Rowell, 326 S.C. 313, 315, 487 S.E.2d 185, 186 (1997) (discussing the requisite mental state for recklessness); see generally Hooper v. Rockwell, 334 S.C. 281, 297, 513 S.E.2d 358, 367 (1999) ("Conduct of the parent which evinces a settled purpose to forego parental duties may fairly be characterized as willful because it manifests a conscious indifference to the rights of the child to receive support and consortium from the parent."). At least one other jurisdiction with a similar statute has found that "[a] person acts `under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life'
352 S.C. 645
when he engages in deliberate conduct which culminates in the death of some person." Davis v. State, 325 Ark. 96, 925 S.W.2d 768, 773 (1996). Therefore, we ... hold that in the context of homicide by abuse statutes, extreme indifference is a mental state akin to intent characterized by a deliberate act culminating in death.

Similarly, in reckless homicide cases, we have held that reckless disregard for the safety of others signifies an indifference to the consequences of one's acts. It denotes a conscious failure to exercise due care or...

To continue reading

Request your trial
101 practice notes
  • Coastal Conservation v. Dept. of Health, No. 4450.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 23 Octubre 2008
    ...related matters. City of Camden v. Fairfield Elec. Co-op., Inc., 372 S.C. 543, 548, 643 S.E.2d 687, 690 (2007) (citing State v. McKnight, 352 S.C. 635, 648, 576 S.E.2d 168, 174 (2003); Berkebile v. Outen, 311 S.C. 50, 53, 426 S.E.2d 760, 762 (1993)); Arnold v. Ass'n of Citadel Men, 337 S.C.......
  • State v. Martucci, No. 4438.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 24 Septiembre 2008
    ...of "a culpable mental state ... and therefore is akin to intent." Jarrell, 350 S.C. at 98, 564 S.E.2d at 366; see also State v. McKnight, 352 S.C. 635, 644, 576 S.E.2d 168, 172-73 The prior abuse or neglect at issue was admissible as proof of intent and the absence of accident. The State co......
  • State v. Cherry, No. 25902.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 29 Noviembre 2004
    ...(2002). A defendant is entitled to a directed verdict when the state fails to produce evidence of the offense charged. State v. McKnight, 352 S.C. 635, 642, 576 S.E.2d 168, 171, cert. denied, 540 U.S. 819, 124 S.Ct. 101, 157 L.Ed.2d 36 (2003); State v. Rothschild, 351 S.C. 238, 243, 569 S.E......
  • State v. Pichardo, No. 4036.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 31 Octubre 2005
    ...a consent to search was voluntary is a question of fact to be determined from the totality of the circumstances. State v. McKnight, 352 S.C. 635, 576 S.E.2d 168 (2003); Mattison, 352 S.C. at 584, 575 S.E.2d at 855. The issue of voluntary consent, when contested by contradicting testimony, i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
100 cases
  • Coastal Conservation v. Dept. of Health, No. 4450.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 23 Octubre 2008
    ...related matters. City of Camden v. Fairfield Elec. Co-op., Inc., 372 S.C. 543, 548, 643 S.E.2d 687, 690 (2007) (citing State v. McKnight, 352 S.C. 635, 648, 576 S.E.2d 168, 174 (2003); Berkebile v. Outen, 311 S.C. 50, 53, 426 S.E.2d 760, 762 (1993)); Arnold v. Ass'n of Citadel Men, 337 S.C.......
  • State v. Martucci, No. 4438.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 24 Septiembre 2008
    ...of "a culpable mental state ... and therefore is akin to intent." Jarrell, 350 S.C. at 98, 564 S.E.2d at 366; see also State v. McKnight, 352 S.C. 635, 644, 576 S.E.2d 168, 172-73 The prior abuse or neglect at issue was admissible as proof of intent and the absence of accident. The State co......
  • State v. Cherry, No. 25902.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 29 Noviembre 2004
    ...(2002). A defendant is entitled to a directed verdict when the state fails to produce evidence of the offense charged. State v. McKnight, 352 S.C. 635, 642, 576 S.E.2d 168, 171, cert. denied, 540 U.S. 819, 124 S.Ct. 101, 157 L.Ed.2d 36 (2003); State v. Rothschild, 351 S.C. 238, 243, 569 S.E......
  • State v. Pichardo, No. 4036.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 31 Octubre 2005
    ...a consent to search was voluntary is a question of fact to be determined from the totality of the circumstances. State v. McKnight, 352 S.C. 635, 576 S.E.2d 168 (2003); Mattison, 352 S.C. at 584, 575 S.E.2d at 855. The issue of voluntary consent, when contested by contradicting testimony, i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT