State v. Taylor, No. 3837.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtHOWARD, J.
Citation598 S.E.2d 735,360 S.C. 18
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Carla TAYLOR, Appellant.
Decision Date24 June 2004
Docket NumberNo. 3837.

360 S.C. 18
598 S.E.2d 735

The STATE, Respondent,
v.
Carla TAYLOR, Appellant

No. 3837.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina.

Heard April 21, 2004.

Decided June 24, 2004.


360 S.C. 20
J. Falkner Wilkes, of Greenville, for Appellant

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, 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 Solicitor Robert M. Ariail, of Greenville, for Respondent.

HOWARD, J.:

Carla Taylor was convicted of trafficking in twenty-eight grams or more of crack cocaine in violation of S.C.Code Ann. section 44-53-375(C)(2) and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime in violation of S.C.Code Ann. section 16-23-490. On appeal, Taylor argues the trial court erred in admitting into evidence crack cocaine seized at the time of her arrest because the State failed to call the police evidence custodian as a witness to establish a complete chain of custody.1 We affirm.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Following a traffic stop on I-85 in Greenville County, Highway Patrol Trooper Shannon Webber arrested Taylor for trafficking in crack cocaine and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime when a consent search of the car she was driving yielded 36.16 grams of crack cocaine and a handgun. Taylor was subsequently indicted and tried for both offenses.

360 S.C. 21
At trial, the State offered the following evidence to establish the chain of custody of the crack cocaine seized in the arrest.2 Trooper Webber testified he took possession of a substance believed to be crack cocaine at the scene of the arrest, placing it in a "best evidence bag" along with a form detailing all pertinent information.3 He then sealed the bag and turned the evidence over to his superior officer, Sergeant Long. According to Webber, once sealed, the bag could not be opened without tearing it

Sergeant Long testified that he transported the best evidence bag containing the substance to the Department of Public Safety's central evidence locker in Columbia. He then turned it in to the evidence custodian, Dale Blackmon.4

At the time of trial, Dale Blackmon was no longer employed by the Department of Public Safety, and did not testify. In lieu of Blackmon's testimony, the State called the successor custodian, Corporal Price. Price explained that only the evidence custodian had access to the evidence locker, with the exception of the supervisor and administrative assistant, who could receive evidence when the custodian was not on duty. He further testified regarding protocol and procedure for the handling and storage of evidence by the custodian, explaining each officer was assigned his or her own storage locker inside of a safe within the locker room. According to Price, a dangerous drug such as cocaine is not retained by the custodian in the evidence locker, but is immediately taken by the custodian to SLED. Once analyzed, it is placed back in the original evidence bag by the SLED chemist and is heat-sealed in another bag. The SLED chemist then returns the drug to the Department's evidence locker room where it is placed in the individual locker designated solely for the arresting officer.

360 S.C. 22
In this case, it remained in Trooper Webber's locker until retrieved by Price for trial

Chemist Ford testified that he retrieved the evidence from the lockbox at SLED; immediately inspected it to assure there were no holes, punctures, or tears in the best evidence bag; and ensured the original seal by Webber had not been broken. After determining there were no signs of tampering, Ford broke the bag open, tested it, and determined it contained 36.16 grams of crack cocaine. He then placed the crack cocaine and the original best evidence bag into another evidence bag, heat-sealed it, labeled it, and placed it back in the vault.

Over defense counsel's objection, the trial court admitted the crack cocaine into evidence, ruling the State had provided sufficient evidence of the chain of custody without the testimony of the missing evidence custodian. Thereafter, Taylor was convicted by a jury of trafficking in crack cocaine in an amount exceeding thirty grams and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Taylor was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment on the trafficking offense and five years on the weapon offense.

DISCUSSION

On appeal, Taylor argues the testimony of everyone who handled the evidence, including that of the former evidence custodian, Dale Blackmon, was necessary to establish the chain of custody. Without Blackmon's testimony, Taylor argues, the evidence was inadmissible under the authority of State v. Chisolm, 355 S.C. 175, 584 S.E.2d 401 (Ct.App.2003), cert. denied (April 8, 2004) and State v. Joseph, 328 S.C. 352, 491 S.E.2d 275 (Ct.App.1997). We reject Taylor's broad reading of these cases as requiring the testimony of all persons handling the evidence as a condition of admissibility.

A party offering into evidence fungible items such as drugs or blood samples must establish a chain of custody as far as practicable. See, e.g., Benton v. Pellum, 232 S.C. 26, 33, 100 S.E.2d 534, 537 (1957); State v. Cribb, 310 S.C. 518, 522, 426 S.E.2d 306, 309 (1992); State v. Joseph, 328 S.C. 352, 364, 491 S.E.2d 275, 281 (Ct.App.1997); State v. Johnson, 318 S.C. 194, 196, 456 S.E.2d 442, 443 (Ct.App.1995). Where the

360 S.C. 23
analyzed substance has passed through several hands, the evidence must not leave it to conjecture as to who had it and what was done with it between the taking and the analysis. While the proof of chain of custody need not negate all possibility of tampering, it must establish a complete chain of evidence as far as practicable. State v. Williams, 297 S.C. 290, 293, 376 S.E.2d 773, 774 (1989); Johnson, 318 S.C. at 196, 456 S.E.2d at 443.

The admission of evidence is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial judge. Williams, 297 S.C. at 293, 376 S.E.2d at 774; Raino v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., 309 S.C. 255, 258, 422 S.E.2d 98, 100 (1992); Johnson, 318 S.C. at 196, 456 S.E.2d at 443. On appeal, the question presented is whether the trial court's decision is controlled by an error of law or is without evidentiary support. State v. Irick, 344 S.C. 460, 463, 545 S.E.2d 282, 284 (2001); State v. Hughey, 339 S.C. 439, 453, 529 S.E.2d 721, 728-729 (2000); see also State v. Brazell, 325 S.C. 65, 78, 480...

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28 practice notes
  • State v. Colden, No. 4207.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 20, 2007
    ...trial judge's decision, the appellate courts will affirm it. State v. Wilson, 345 S.C. 1, 7, 545 S.E.2d 827, 829 (2001); State v. Taylor, 360 S.C. 18, 598 S.E.2d 735 (Ct.App.2004). Even without any evidentiary support, "[i]n order for an error to warrant reversal, the error must result......
  • State v. Trapp, Appellate Case No. 2014-002358
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 24, 2017
    ...court does not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence absent proof of tampering, bad faith, or ill-motive. State v. Taylor, 360 S.C. 18, 25, 598 S.E.2d 735, 738 (Ct. App. 2004)."Testimony from each custodian of fungible evidence, however, is not a prerequisite to establishing a......
  • Jeter v. Cartledge, Civil Action No.: 8:14-cv-04798-RBH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • March 28, 2016
    ...and the manner in which it was handled, a weakness in the chain does not necessarily raise a question of admissibility. State v. Taylor, 598 S.E.2d 735, 737 (S.C. Ct. App. 2004). In this case, the prosecutor elicited testimony at trial regarding the chain of custody of the drugs that sugges......
  • State v. Miller, No. 4977.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 26, 2012
    ...(2007) (stating a trial court's decision to admit evidence will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion); State v. Taylor, 360 S.C. 18, 22, 598 S.E.2d 735, 737 (Ct.App.2004) (stating a party offering into evidence fungible items such as drugs must establish a chain of custod......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
28 cases
  • State v. Colden, No. 4207.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 20, 2007
    ...trial judge's decision, the appellate courts will affirm it. State v. Wilson, 345 S.C. 1, 7, 545 S.E.2d 827, 829 (2001); State v. Taylor, 360 S.C. 18, 598 S.E.2d 735 (Ct.App.2004). Even without any evidentiary support, "[i]n order for an error to warrant reversal, the error must result......
  • State v. Trapp, Appellate Case No. 2014-002358
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 24, 2017
    ...court does not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence absent proof of tampering, bad faith, or ill-motive. State v. Taylor, 360 S.C. 18, 25, 598 S.E.2d 735, 738 (Ct. App. 2004)."Testimony from each custodian of fungible evidence, however, is not a prerequisite to establishing a......
  • Jeter v. Cartledge, Civil Action No.: 8:14-cv-04798-RBH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • March 28, 2016
    ...and the manner in which it was handled, a weakness in the chain does not necessarily raise a question of admissibility. State v. Taylor, 598 S.E.2d 735, 737 (S.C. Ct. App. 2004). In this case, the prosecutor elicited testimony at trial regarding the chain of custody of the drugs that sugges......
  • State v. Miller, No. 4977.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 26, 2012
    ...(2007) (stating a trial court's decision to admit evidence will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion); State v. Taylor, 360 S.C. 18, 22, 598 S.E.2d 735, 737 (Ct.App.2004) (stating a party offering into evidence fungible items such as drugs must establish a chain of custod......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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