State v. Rice, No. 4300.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtAnderson
Citation652 S.E.2d 409
PartiesSTATE of South Carolina, Respondent, v. Carmen L. RICE, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 4300.
Decision Date05 October 2007
652 S.E.2d 409
STATE of South Carolina, Respondent,
v.
Carmen L. RICE, Appellant.
No. 4300.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard September 11, 2007.
Decided October 5, 2007.

[652 S.E.2d 413]

Deputy Chief for Capital Appeals Robert M. Dudek, of Columbia, for Appellant.

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

ANDERSON, J.


Carmen L. Rice (Rice) was convicted of murder and armed robbery and sentenced to life plus thirty years, concurrent. Rice challenges her conviction, claiming the trial court erred by (1) ruling the portion of a prior inconsistent statement concerning third-party guilt inadmissible; (2) admitting alleged hearsay testimony; (3) permitting an in-court identification; (4) admitting business records under Rule 803(6), SCRE; and (5) failing to issue a curative instruction following the State's closing argument. We affirm.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On the evening of October 25, 2001, Carmen Rice and Iris Bryant (Bryant) joined Bernard Brennan (Brennan) at the Varsity in Columbia, where Brennan was playing pool with his friend, Alton Page. Brennan told Page one of the women was his cousin from New York and the other was her friend from Beaufort. Eventually, Brennan, Rice, and Bryant went to Calloway's to eat.

After their meal, Brennan and the two women left Calloway's together. They drove in his Mercedes to an isolated section of Richland County, near the intersection of Fairfield Road and Interstate 20.

652 S.E.2d 414

Later that night, Deputy Tom Lyons found Brennan's Mercedes in a ditch on Crawford Road. Brennan was still buckled in his seat-belt, the engine was running, and the vehicle was in gear. Brennan had been shot five times in the back and died as a result of the shooting. His wallet was missing.

The police learned Bryant was involved in the murder and robbery after receiving information from one of Bryant's friends. Bryant subsequently implicated Rice in the murder and robbery.

In her testimony at Rice's trial, Bryant confirmed she and Rice had planned to rob Brennan but denied any complicity in a plan to murder him. Bryant claimed Rice unexpectedly shot Brennan from the backseat with the weapon Rice was issued by her employer. After the shooting, Rice removed Brennan's wallet and wiped down the car. Then the two women fled.

Prior to trial, Bryant had given investigators multiple statements implicating other individuals in the robbery and murder. At Rice's trial, she confessed she lied in those previous interviews because she was afraid she would be charged with murder if she admitted being at the crime scene. Rice attempted to impeach Bryant's testimony with a prior inconsistent statement Bryant made to Alana Quattlebaum, a fellow prisoner. The import of Bryant's statement to Quattlebaum was that a woman named Nikki, rather than Rice, actually killed Brennan.1

Brennan's friend, Alton Page, testified he could not identify either of the individuals he saw with Brennan on the night of the murder, but he recalled that one of them wore a "bright orange top."

Heidi Feagin was a waitress at Calloway's in October of 2001. Feagin served Brennan and the two women on October 25, and recognized Brennan as a "regular customer." She described one of the women as having a stocky or medium build and wearing a bright orange top. The other woman was thinner and younger. Before trial, Feagin was shown a photographic lineup of six women. The array included only Bryant's photograph. Feagin did not identify Bryant, but instead selected two other women as Brennan's companions.

The investigation ultimately led to Rice's indictment and trial for the armed robbery and murder of Bernard Brennan. The jury returned a verdict of guilty and Rice was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and thirty years, concurrent, for armed robbery. At the time of Rice's trial, Bryant had been charged with murder and armed robbery.

ISSUES

1. Did the trial court err by ruling a prior inconsistent statement concerning third-party guilt inadmissible?

2. Did the trial court err by admitting hearsay testimony?

3. Did the trial court err by permitting an in-court identification that was allegedly unreliable?

4. Did the trial court err by admitting business records under Rule 803(6), SCRE, that were untrustworthy?

5. Did the trial court err by failing to give the jury an instruction curing the prosecutor's improper comment in closing?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In criminal cases, the appellate court sits to review errors of law only. State v. Baccus, 367 S.C. 41, 48, 625 S.E.2d 216, 220 (2006); State v. Wilson, 345 S.C. 1, 6, 545 S.E.2d 827, 829 (2001); State v. Wood, 362 S.C. 520, 525, 608 S.E.2d 435, 438 (Ct.App. 2004). We are bound by the trial court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous. State v. Quattlebaum, 338 S.C. 441, 454, 527 S.E.2d 105, 111 (2000); State v. Williams, 326 S.C. 130, 135, 485 S.E.2d 99, 102 (1997); State v. Patterson, 367 S.C. 219,

652 S.E.2d 415

224, 625 S.E.2d 239, 241 (Ct.App.2006) cert. pending State v. Landis, 362 S.C. 97, 101, 606 S.E.2d 503, 505 (Ct.App.2004). This court does not reevaluate the facts based on its own view of the preponderance of the evidence but simply determines whether the trial court's ruling is supported by any evidence. Wilson, 345 S.C. at 1, 545 S.E.2d at 827; State v. Mattison, 352 S.C. 577, 583, 575 S.E.2d 852, 855 (Ct.App.2003).

I. Admission of Evidence

The admissibility of evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial judge. State v. Mansfield, 343 S.C. 66, 77, 538 S.E.2d 257, 263 (Ct.App.2000); State v. Patterson, 337 S.C. 215, 228, 522 S.E.2d 845, 851 (Ct.App.1999). Evidentiary rulings of the trial court will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion or the commission of legal error which results in prejudice to the defendant. Mansfield, 343 S.C. at 77, 538 S.E.2d at 263.

On appeal, we are limited to determining whether the trial court abused its discretion. State v. Douglas, 367 S.C. 498, 506, 626 S.E.2d 59, 63 (Ct.App.2006) cert. pending; State v. Walker, 366 S.C. 643, 653, 623 S.E.2d 122, 127 (Ct.App.2005). An abuse of discretion occurs when the ruling is based on an error of law or a factual conclusion that is without evidentiary support. Fields v. Regional Med. Ctr. Orangeburg, 363 S.C. 19, 26, 609 S.E.2d 506, 509 (2005); see also Simon v. Flowers, 231 S.C. 545, 550, 99 S.E.2d 391, 393-94 (1957) ("`[E]rror at law' exists: (1) when the circuit judge, in issuing [the order], was controlled by some error of law ... or (2) where the order, based upon factual, as distinguished from legal, considerations, is without adequate evidentiary support."); McSween v. Windham, 77 S.C. 223, 226, 57 S.E. 847, 848 (1907) ("[T]he determination of the [trial] court will not be interfered with, unless there is an abuse of discretion, or unless the exercise of discretion was controlled by some error of law.").

II. Closing Arguments

A trial court is vested with broad discretion in dealing with the range of propriety of closing argument, and ordinarily its rulings on such matters will not be disturbed. State v. Condrey, 349 S.C. 184, 195-96, 562 S.E.2d 320, 325-26 (Ct.App.2002). This court will not disturb a trial court's ruling regarding closing argument unless the trial court commits an abuse of discretion. State v. Copeland, 321 S.C. 318, 324, 468 S.E.2d 620, 624 (1996); State v. Jernigan, 156 S.C. 509, 524, 153 S.E. 480, 486 (1930). An appellate court must review the argument in the context of the entire record. State v. Patterson, 324 S.C. 5, 17, 482 S.E.2d 760, 766 (1997).

The relevant question is whether the prosecutor's comments so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process. Id. Once the trial court has allowed the argument to stand, the defendant has the burden of proving the argument denied him a fair determination of guilt or innocence. State v. Copeland, 278 S.C. 572, 580, 300 S.E.2d 63, 68 (1982). Improper comments on closing do not require reversal if the appellant fails to prove he did not receive a fair trial because of the alleged improper argument. Randall v. State, 356 S.C. 639, 642, 591 S.E.2d 608, 610 (2004). To warrant reversal, the appellant must prove both abuse of discretion and resulting prejudice. State v. Taylor, 356 S.C. 227, 231, 589 S.E.2d 1, 3 (2003); State v. Patterson, 367 S.C. 219, 232, 625 S.E.2d 239, 245 (Ct.App.2006) cert pending; State v. Harrison, 343 S.C. 165, 172, 539 S.E.2d 71, 74 (Ct.App.2000) (citing State v. Hughey, 339 S.C. 439, 450, 529 S.E.2d 721, 727 (2000)); State v. Sierra, 337 S.C. 368, 373, 523 S.E.2d 187, 189 (Ct.App.1999).

III. Harmless Error

The commission of legal error is harmless if it does not result in prejudice to the defendant. For the error to be harmless, we must determine "beyond a reasonable doubt the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict obtained." Taylor v. State, 312 S.C. 179, 181, 439 S.E.2d 820, 821 (1993) (citing Arnold v. State, 309 S.C. 157, 172, 420 S.E.2d 834, 842 (1992)); State v. Buckner, 341 S.C. 241, 247, 534 S.E.2d 15, 18 (Ct.App.2000) (citing State v. Andrews, 324 S.C. 516, 479 S.E.2d 808, 812 (Ct.App.1996)).

652 S.E.2d 416

"[A]n insubstantial error not affecting the result of the trial is harmless where `guilt has been conclusively proven by competent evidence such that no other rational conclusion can be reached.'" State v. Pagan, 369 S.C. 201, 212, 631 S.E.2d 262, 267 (2006) (quoting State v. Bailey, 298 S.C. 1, 5, 377 S.E.2d 581, 584 (1989)); State v. Adams, 354 S.C. 361, 381, 580 S.E.2d 785, 795 (Ct.App.2003); see also State v. Kelley, 319 S.C. 173, 179, 460 S.E.2d 368, 371 (1995) (noting this court will not set aside a conviction for insubstantial errors not affecting the result when guilt is...

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46 practice notes
  • State v. Martucci, No. 4438.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 24, 2008
    ...Federal Constitution, be deemed harmless, not requiring the automatic reversal of the conviction."); State v. Rice, 375 S.C. 302, 316, 652 S.E.2d 409. 375 S.C. 302, 652 S.E.2d 409, 415 (Ct.App.2007) ("The commission of legal error is harmless if it does not result in prejudice to the defend......
  • State v. Kirton, No. 4470.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 17, 2008
    ...Federal Constitution, be deemed harmless, not requiring the automatic reversal of the conviction."); State v. Rice, 375 S.C. 302, 316, 652 S.E.2d 409, 415 (Ct.App.2007) ("The commission of legal error is harmless if it does not result in prejudice to the defendant."); Visual Graphics Leasin......
  • State v. Lyles, No. 4406.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 6, 2008
    ...Federal Constitution, be deemed harmless, not requiring the automatic reversal of the conviction."); State v. Rice, 375 S.C. 302, 316, 652 S.E.2d 409, 415 (Ct.App.2007) ("The commission of legal error is harmless if it does not result in prejudice to the defendant."); Visual Graphics Leasin......
  • Horry County v. Parbel, No. 4388.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 12, 2008
    ...S.C. 41, 48, 625 S.E.2d 216, 220 (2006); State v. Wilson, 345 S.C. 1, 5-6, 545 S.E.2d 827, 829 (2001); State v. Rice, 375 S.C. 302, 314, 652 S.E.2d 409, 414 (Ct.App. 2007); State v. Wood, 362 S.C. 520, 525, 608 S.E.2d 435, 438 (Ct.App.2004). This court is bound by the circuit court's factua......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
46 cases
  • State v. Martucci, No. 4438.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 24, 2008
    ...Federal Constitution, be deemed harmless, not requiring the automatic reversal of the conviction."); State v. Rice, 375 S.C. 302, 316, 652 S.E.2d 409. 375 S.C. 302, 652 S.E.2d 409, 415 (Ct.App.2007) ("The commission of legal error is harmless if it does not result in prejudice to the defend......
  • State v. Kirton, No. 4470.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 17, 2008
    ...Federal Constitution, be deemed harmless, not requiring the automatic reversal of the conviction."); State v. Rice, 375 S.C. 302, 316, 652 S.E.2d 409, 415 (Ct.App.2007) ("The commission of legal error is harmless if it does not result in prejudice to the defendant."); Visual Graphics Leasin......
  • State v. Lyles, No. 4406.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 6, 2008
    ...Federal Constitution, be deemed harmless, not requiring the automatic reversal of the conviction."); State v. Rice, 375 S.C. 302, 316, 652 S.E.2d 409, 415 (Ct.App.2007) ("The commission of legal error is harmless if it does not result in prejudice to the defendant."); Visual Graphics Leasin......
  • Horry County v. Parbel, No. 4388.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 12, 2008
    ...S.C. 41, 48, 625 S.E.2d 216, 220 (2006); State v. Wilson, 345 S.C. 1, 5-6, 545 S.E.2d 827, 829 (2001); State v. Rice, 375 S.C. 302, 314, 652 S.E.2d 409, 414 (Ct.App. 2007); State v. Wood, 362 S.C. 520, 525, 608 S.E.2d 435, 438 (Ct.App.2004). This court is bound by the circuit court's factua......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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