State v. Sprouse

Decision Date25 November 1996
Docket NumberNo. 2592,2592
Citation325 S.C. 275,478 S.E.2d 871
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Roger Dale SPROUSE, Appellant.

Ricky Harris, of Spartanburg; and S.C. Office of Appellate Defense, Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Charles Molony Condon, Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, Senior Assistant Attorney General Norman Mark Rapoport, Columbia; and Solicitor Holman C. Gossett, Jr., Spartanburg, for Respondent.

ANDERSON, Judge:

Roger Dale Sprouse appeals his conviction for committing a lewd act upon a child under the age of fourteen. We affirm. 1

FACTS/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Sprouse was accused of committing a lewd act upon his eight-year-old daughter (victim) when she visited him at his home in Spartanburg County on June 11, 1994. The victim lived with her mother in Union County. After a jury trial, Sprouse was found guilty of the offense as charged and sentenced to twelve years in prison.

ISSUES

(1) Did the trial judge err in excluding evidence of an allegedly false accusation of prior abuse?

(2) Did the trial judge err in allowing testimony regarding Sprouse's statement to a Department of Social Services (DSS) employee when he was not advised of his Miranda rights?

(3) Did the trial judge properly refuse to instruct the jury on any lesser offenses?

LAW/ANALYSIS
1. ALLEGATION OF PRIOR ABUSE.

Sprouse contends the trial judge erred in granting the State's motion to exclude evidence of an allegedly false accusation of sexual abuse made by the victim's grandmother. Sprouse's contention is without merit.

Prior to trial in 1995, the State moved to exclude from evidence a medical record from Eastside Family Physicians dated September 29, 1989. The document contained notes of a physician's exam to detect sexual abuse performed on the victim when she was four years old. The notes read in pertinent part, "Pt [Patient] is brought in by her Mom as her g-mom is worried that she is being sexually abused. Child was fussy a lot when mom was cleaning her bottom after a bath yesterday and the grandmom thought that the child might have been abused. Mom does not feel that this is so and states that the child has always had a real sensitive bottom." The exam revealed no signs of abuse.

Defense counsel stated he intended to ask the victim if Sprouse had ever sexually abused her before, and then inquire whether she remembered anything about the 1989 doctor's visit. Counsel argued that, because the medical examination uncovered no signs of physical abuse, he was entitled to pursue this topic on cross-examination because it constituted a prior false allegation of sexual abuse.

The trial judge granted the State's motion to exclude evidence of the prior medical examination, stating the defense would not be allowed to pursue this line of inquiry. The judge noted the suspicion of abuse came from the grandmother, not the victim. The judge also noted it had been six years since the doctor's examination, and there was never any formal investigation into the matter. The judge concluded the prejudicial value of the evidence outweighed its probative value.

On appeal, Sprouse contends the trial judge's ruling was error and that the evidence was admissible pursuant to State v. Boiter, 302 S.C. 381, 396 S.E.2d 364 (1990), which provides:

Evidence of prior false accusations by a complainant may be probative on the issue of credibility....

We hold that in deciding the admissibility of evidence of a victim's prior accusation, the trial judge should first determine whether such accusation was false. If the prior allegation was false, the next consideration becomes remoteness in time. Finally, the trial court shall consider the factual similarity between [the] prior and present allegations to determine relevancy.

Id. at 383-84, 396 S.E.2d at 365 (emphasis added). Sprouse argues the grandmother's allegation of abuse was "patently false" and that its occurrence in 1989 was not too remote from the alleged incident of abuse in 1994. Further, Sprouse contends the allegations were factually similar.

It is well settled that an appellate court will not disturb a trial judge's ruling concerning the scope of cross-examination of a witness to test his or her credibility, or to show possible bias or self-interest in testifying, absent a manifest abuse of discretion. State v. Smith, 315 S.C. 547, 446 S.E.2d 411 (1994); State v. Boiter, supra; State v. Barroso, 320 S.C. 1, 462 S.E.2d 862 (Ct.App.1995). Evidence, even if arguably relevant, must be excluded if its probative value is outweighed by the prejudicial impact of its admission. State v. Kelley, 319 S.C. 173, 460 S.E.2d 368 (1995); State v. Alexander, 303 S.C. 377, 401 S.E.2d 146 (1991).

We find there was no basis for challenging the victim's credibility or cross-examining her about the 1989 doctor's visit under the auspices of Boiter. The rule set forth in Boiter is designed to allow a defendant to challenge the credibility of the victim based on the victim's prior false allegations. In this case, it was the grandmother who purportedly harbored a suspicion of abuse, not the victim. Further, the characterization of the grandmother's suspicion as a "prior false allegation" appears questionable. Rather, it is more in the nature of an explanatory statement of why the victim was brought in for an examination by her mother. There is no indication that a formal accusation of abuse was ever made by the grandmother, nor was an official investigation conducted. Since there is no evidence that the victim ever made a prior false allegation of sexual abuse, we hold the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in ruling the defense could not pursue this line of inquiry.

2. STATEMENT MADE TO DSS EMPLOYEE WITHOUT MIRANDA WARNING.

Sprouse next argues the trial judge erred in refusing to suppress his oral statement admitting guilt to a DSS employee because the employee did not advise him of his rights to an attorney and to remain silent in accordance with Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). We disagree.

Prior to trial, defense counsel moved to suppress an oral statement Sprouse gave on July 23, 1994 to Roy Davis, a case manager with the Union County DSS office. Mrs. Nancy Howell, the mother of the victim, purportedly called Sprouse that day and told him that he could come to Union County to visit their two sons. Howell had previously cut off all visitation after Sprouse was accused of abusing their daughter during her visit to his home on June 11, 1994. When Sprouse met with his sons on July 23rd, Howell allegedly told Sprouse that he needed to talk to Davis because he was investigating the case for DSS; Howell suggested Sprouse should go ahead and meet with Davis because otherwise Sprouse would just have to come back at a later date.

The DSS office was closed on July 23rd, a Saturday, so Sprouse met with Davis in the DSS parking lot. Sprouse and Davis talked for a little over three hours. Davis never told Sprouse that he was under arrest and he did not threaten him. At the end of the discussion, Sprouse allegedly confessed to having committed the offense. Sprouse stated he did not leave during the discussion because he thought "that [Davis] was a legal representative of an office" and that he did not know if Davis had the power to arrest him if he had just ended the conversation. Sprouse said he was under medication for his nerves and had been standing out in the sun for several hours when he confessed.

Defense counsel argued the confession was inadmissible because Sprouse was subjected to custodial interrogation by Davis without being advised of his Miranda rights.

The trial judge denied the motion to suppress Sprouse's statement to DSS. The judge found Sprouse voluntarily met with Davis in the parking lot and that he was never in custody so as to trigger the requirements of Miranda. The judge noted Sprouse had previously been arrested for the alleged lewd act, but he had been released on bond before the conversation with Davis transpired; therefore, Sprouse was no longer in custody. The judge ruled Davis was not a law enforcement officer and that his conversation with Sprouse did not constitute an interrogation.

On appeal, Sprouse contends the judge should have suppressed his statement because Davis was acting as an agent for law enforcement when he interviewed Sprouse; therefore, Davis should have advised Sprouse of his Miranda rights. While the State concedes Davis had a duty to report instances of suspected child abuse or neglect to the appropriate law enforcement agency pursuant to S.C.Code Ann. § 20-7-650(L) (Supp.1995), the State argues this does not make him an "agent" of the police, and his interview with Sprouse was not a custodial interrogation.

Statements, whether inculpatory or exculpatory, obtained as a result of custodial interrogation, are inadmissible unless the defendant was advised of and waived his rights. The accused must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694.

In Miranda v. Arizona, supra, the Court held that the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination prohibits admitting statements given by a suspect during "custodial interrogation" without a prior warning. Custodial interrogation means "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody...." Id. 384 U.S., at 444, 86 S.Ct., at 1612. The warning mandated by Miranda was meant to preserve the privilege during "incommunicado interrogation of individuals in a police-dominated atmosphere." Id., at 445, 86 S.Ct., at 1612. That atmosphere is said to generate "inherently...

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