State v. Santiago, No. 4127.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtHearn
Citation634 S.E.2d 23
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Christopher Alan SANTIAGO, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 4127.
Decision Date19 June 2006
634 S.E.2d 23
The STATE, Respondent,
v.
Christopher Alan SANTIAGO, Appellant.
No. 4127.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard April 6, 2006.
Decided June 19, 2006.
Rehearing Denied August 25, 2006.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Richard A. Harpootlian and M. David Scott, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Attorney General S. Creighton Waters, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Randolph Murdaugh, III, of Hampton, for Respondent.

HEARN, C.J.


Christopher Santiago appeals his convictions of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, alleging the trial judge erred in refusing to charge the jury on self-defense and in excluding testimony of a forensic psychiatrist. We affirm.

FACTS

During the summer of 2002, Santiago and Kate Wisn lived together at the Hilton Head vacation home of Kate's parents. When Kate's father, Joe (hereinafter "Wisn"), visited Hilton Head in July, he informed Santiago that he and Kate needed to move out of the home within the next two weeks. That evening, Santiago left the home and drove to New Jersey to live with his parents. After a brief stay in New Jersey, Santiago returned to South Carolina and began renting an apartment near the vacation home.

According to Santiago, on the morning of August 9, 2002, he left his apartment with a 20-gauge shotgun in the trunk of his car with the intent to commit suicide. Before taking his own life, he called his parents to tell them goodbye. They convinced him to see his psychiatrist, who was able to talk Santiago out of committing suicide.1

When Santiago returned to his apartment, he had a message on his answering machine from Wisn, requesting that Santiago come to the vacation home to pick up some belongings. Upon his arrival at Wisn's home, Santiago saw his belongings packed in a container beside Wisn's car in the driveway. Santiago rummaged through the container in search of a favorite belt but was unable to

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find it. He rang the doorbell; Wisn answered, and the two men went inside to search for the belt.

According to Santiago, he began to cry while looking for the belt, and Wisn ridiculed him. At that point Santiago left the house, but Wisn followed him. Santiago testified that Wisn told him to "stay the f___away from my daughter." Santiago walked past the container of his belongings, but Wisn picked it up and walked around to the back of Santiago's car to place it in the trunk. After Santiago opened the trunk, Wisn placed the container into it and noticed the 20-gauge shotgun. Wisn looked at the shotgun, looked at Santiago, and then looked at the shotgun again. Santiago testified he thought Wisn was about to grab the shotgun, so he took the gun from the trunk and pointed it at Wisn. Santiago took a step back. Wisn told Santiago "don't be f____ing stupid." Santiago testified he thought Wisn was about to reach for the gun so he opened fire. He shot Wisn four times, and Wisn later died from his wounds.

After fleeing the scene, Santiago drove to a fire station, and told the firemen that he shot someone on Hilton Head who had "ruined his life." A fireman called the police, and the police sent detective Leland Tuten to investigate. Detective Tuten provided Santiago with a Miranda2 rights and waiver form, which Santiago initialed and signed. Tuten then provided Santiago with a pen and paper, and Santiago drafted a confession. In this confession, Santiago explained that while he lived with Kate, Wisn tried to turn her family members against him. He wrote he planned to marry Kate, but his plan fell through because Wisn kicked him out of the house. Santiago also admitted he shot Wisn four times with the shotgun. The confession went on to describe the shooting. Santiago said he was standing near the back of his car when he fired on Wisn, who was standing near the front of the car.3 After Santiago confessed to the shooting, Tuten arrested him. Santiago was subsequently indicted for murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

During trial, Santiago attempted to present testimony from Dr. Donna Schwartz-Watts, a forensic psychiatrist, who, prior to trial, had diagnosed Santiago with a condition called asperger's disorder, a subset of autism. Santiago argued Schwartz-Watts's testimony would be relevant to his mental state at the time of the shooting and would also support a finding that Santiago committed voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. The trial judge refused to allow her testimony into evidence, finding it was not relevant because South Carolina does not recognize the defense of diminished capacity. The trial court also rejected Santiago's request to charge the jury with self-defense.

The jury convicted Santiago of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. The judge sentenced Santiago to life imprisonment without parole.

LAW/ANALYSIS

I. Self-Defense Charge

Santiago first argues the trial judge erred in refusing to charge the jury on self-defense. We disagree.

An appellate court will not reverse the trial judge's decision regarding jury charges absent an abuse of discretion. Clark v. Cantrell, 339 S.C. 369, 389, 529 S.E.2d 528, 539 (2000); State v. Williams, 367 S.C. 192, 624 S.E.2d 443 (Ct.App.2005). If there is any evidence to support a jury charge, the trial judge should grant the requested charge. State v. Burriss, 334 S.C. 256, 262, 513 S.E.2d 104, 108 (1999). The refusal to grant a requested jury charge that states a sound principle of law applicable to the case at hand is an error of law. Clark, 339 S.C. at 390, 529 S.E.2d at 539. To warrant a reversal, however, the error must result in prejudice to the party requesting the charge. Id. A self-defense charge is not required unless the evidence supports it. State v. Goodson, 312 S.C. 278, 280, 440 S.E.2d 370, 372 (1994).

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To establish self defense in South Carolina, four elements must be present: (1) the defendant was without fault in bringing on the difficulty; (2) the defendant actually believed he was in imminent danger of losing his life or sustaining serious bodily injury; (3) a reasonable, prudent person of ordinary fitness and courage would have entertained the same belief; and (4) the defendant had no other probable means of avoiding the danger of losing his life or sustaining serious bodily injury other than to act as he did. Jackson v. State, 355 S.C. 568, 570-71, 586 S.E.2d 562, 562 (2003); State v. Day, 341 S.C. 410, 416, 535 S.E.2d 431, 434 (2000). If there is any evidence of self-defense, the issue must be submitted to the jury. State v. Burkhart, 350 S.C. 252, 260, 565 S.E.2d 298, 302 (2002). In charging self-defense, the trial judge should consider the facts and circumstances of the case and fashion an appropriate charge. State v. Starnes, 340 S.C. 312, 322, 531 S.E.2d 907, 913 (2000). The trial judge commits reversible error if he or she fails to give a charge on an issue raised by the evidence and requested by the defendant. State v. Lee, 298 S.C. 362, 364, 380 S.E.2d 834, 836 (1989).

Here, the record does not support a charge of self-defense for several reasons. First, the evidence does not support a finding that Santiago was without fault in bringing about the difficulty. Santiago had gone to Wisn's house with a loaded gun in his vehicle, and that weapon was apparently observed by Wisn as he lifted Santiago's belongings into the car. Although Santiago asserted that Wisn verbally berated him as he looked for his favorite belt, these words were never accompanied by a hostile act. While we recognize that, depending on the circumstances, words accompanied by hostile acts may establish self-defense, there was no evidence of a hostile act by Wisn. See State v. Fuller, 297 S.C. 440, 444, 377 S.E.2d 328, 331 (1989); State v. Harvey, 220 S.C. 506, 518, 68 S.E.2d 409, 414 (1951) ("[W]here death is caused by the use of a deadly weapon, words alone, however opprobrious, are not sufficient to constitute a legal provocation.").

Santiago argues the hostile act occurred when Wisn looked at the gun, looked at Santiago, and then looked at the gun again. This bare assertion is insufficient to establish a hostile act by Wisn. Santiago never claimed Wisn made a move for the gun before Santiago took it from the trunk. Even assuming, as Santiago testified, that Wisn reached for the gun while in Santiago's hands, he did so after Santiago brought about the difficulty by removing the shotgun from the trunk and aiming it at Wisn.4 Therefore, no question of fact for the jury is created on the first prong of self-defense.

While Santiago asserts he actually believed he was in imminent danger, the third prong of self-defense cannot be established because a reasonable, prudent person of ordinary fitness and courage would not have feared for his life or serious bodily injury under the circumstances of this case. Santiago testified that he and Wisn had never had a physical altercation, nor had Wisn ever threatened to kill or cause serious injury to Santiago before the shooting. Additionally, the evidence, taken in the light most favorable to Santiago, demonstrates that Wisn merely looked at the shotgun, looked at Santiago, and then looked at the shotgun again. Accordingly, no reasonable person would have feared for his life simply because of Wisn's actions of looking. Therefore, no question of fact for the jury is created on this element of self-defense.

Finally, the fourth prong of self-defense cannot be satisfied because Santiago had other probable means of avoiding the danger. If the defendant provokes or initiates the assault, he cannot invoke self-defense; however, he may restore his right to self-defense if he withdraws from the conflict and communicates that decision to his adversary. State v. Bryant, 336 S.C....

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67 practice notes
  • Lancaster v. Metrish, No. 10–2112.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 27, 2012
    ...200, 354 S.E.2d 338, 343 (1987); Ohio v. Wilcox, 70 Ohio St.2d 182, 436 N.E.2d 523, 533 (1982); South Carolina v. Santiago, 370 S.C. 153, 634 S.E.2d 23, 28–29 (App.2006); Tennessee v. Grose, 982 S.W.2d 349, 353 (Tenn.Crim.App.1997); Davis v. Texas, 313 S.W.3d 317, 328 (Tex.Crim.App.2010); K......
  • Lancaster v. Metrish, No. 10-2112
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • June 29, 2012
    ...Carolina v. Adams, 354 S.E.2d 338, 343 (N.C. Ct. App. 1987); Ohio v. Wilcox, 436 N.E.2d 523, 533 (Ohio 1981); South Carolina v. Santiago, 634 S.E.2d 23, 163 (S.C. Ct. App. 2006); Tennessee v. Grose, 982 S.W.2d 349, 353 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1997); Davis v. Texas, 313 S.W.3d 317, 328 (Tex. Crim.......
  • State v. Washington, Appellate Case No. 2015-002668
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 8, 2018
    ...S.E.2d 465, 469 (2008). "A self-defense charge is not required unless the evidence supports it." State v. Santiago , 370 S.C. 153, 159, 634 S.E.2d 23, 26 (Ct. App. 2006). To warrant reversal, a trial court’s refusal to give a requested jury charge must be both erroneous and prejudicial to t......
  • State v. Jackson, No. 4554.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 2, 2009
    ...Generally, the failure to make a proffer of excluded evidence will preclude review on appeal. State v. Santiago, 370 S.C. 153, 163, 634 S.E.2d 23, 29 (Ct.App.2006) (holding a proffer of testimony is required to preserve the issue of whether testimony was properly excluded by the trial judge......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
67 cases
  • Lancaster v. Metrish, No. 10–2112.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 27, 2012
    ...200, 354 S.E.2d 338, 343 (1987); Ohio v. Wilcox, 70 Ohio St.2d 182, 436 N.E.2d 523, 533 (1982); South Carolina v. Santiago, 370 S.C. 153, 634 S.E.2d 23, 28–29 (App.2006); Tennessee v. Grose, 982 S.W.2d 349, 353 (Tenn.Crim.App.1997); Davis v. Texas, 313 S.W.3d 317, 328 (Tex.Crim.App.2010); K......
  • Lancaster v. Metrish, No. 10-2112
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • June 29, 2012
    ...Carolina v. Adams, 354 S.E.2d 338, 343 (N.C. Ct. App. 1987); Ohio v. Wilcox, 436 N.E.2d 523, 533 (Ohio 1981); South Carolina v. Santiago, 634 S.E.2d 23, 163 (S.C. Ct. App. 2006); Tennessee v. Grose, 982 S.W.2d 349, 353 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1997); Davis v. Texas, 313 S.W.3d 317, 328 (Tex. Crim.......
  • State v. Washington, Appellate Case No. 2015-002668
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 8, 2018
    ...S.E.2d 465, 469 (2008). "A self-defense charge is not required unless the evidence supports it." State v. Santiago , 370 S.C. 153, 159, 634 S.E.2d 23, 26 (Ct. App. 2006). To warrant reversal, a trial court’s refusal to give a requested jury charge must be both erroneous and prejudicial to t......
  • State v. Jackson, No. 4554.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 2, 2009
    ...Generally, the failure to make a proffer of excluded evidence will preclude review on appeal. State v. Santiago, 370 S.C. 153, 163, 634 S.E.2d 23, 29 (Ct.App.2006) (holding a proffer of testimony is required to preserve the issue of whether testimony was properly excluded by the trial judge......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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