State v. Whitner, No. 27142.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtJustice KITTREDGE.
Citation399 S.C. 547,732 S.E.2d 861
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Samuel WHITNER, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 27142.
Decision Date11 July 2012

399 S.C. 547
732 S.E.2d 861

The STATE, Respondent,
v.
Samuel WHITNER, Appellant.

No. 27142.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard Oct. 18, 2011.
Decided July 11, 2012.


[732 S.E.2d 862]


Chief Appellate Defender Robert M. Dudek, of Columbia, and Christopher D. Scalzo, of Greenville, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Assistant Attorney General William M. Blitch, Jr., all of Columbia, and W. Walter Wilkins, III, of Greenville, for Respondent.


Justice KITTREDGE.

[399 S.C. 550]Appellant Samuel Whitner was convicted and sentenced for the offense of criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor in the first degree. The victim of the sexual abuse was Appellant's then five-or six-year-old daughter. Appellant assigns error to two evidentiary rulings. The first ruling was the denial of Appellant's motion to suppress a tape recording of his telephone conversation with the victim wherein he admitted the abuse. The second ruling was the denial of Appellant's motion to exclude evidence in connection with a forensic interview of the minor victim. We find no error in the admission of the challenged evidence and affirm.

I.

Appellant is the victim's biological father. According to the victim's testimony, when she was five or six years old, Appellant exposed his penis to victim and forced her to perform oral sex on him twice.

In 2007, when the victim was eleven years old, the victim disclosed the abuse to her mother (Mother). According to Mother, she encouraged the victim to confront Appellant. The victim telephoned Appellant to confront him, and he denied the incident. Mother subsequently informed her husband (Stepfather) about the abuse. The couple decided to record telephone calls between Appellant and the victim. Several days later, Mother consented to Stepfather recording a telephone conversation between the victim and Appellant without the victim's knowledge or consent. During the thirty-one-minute conversation, Appellant admitted the sexual abuse

[732 S.E.2d 863]

and stated that the incident was a mistake he deeply regretted.

Mother supplied the recording to law enforcement, and Appellant was arrested and charged with CSC with a minor in the first degree. As part of the investigation, a forensic interview of the victim was conducted.

Appellant filed a motion to suppress the recorded telephone conversation, claiming the recording, intercepted without the [399 S.C. 551]prior consent of either party, violated the South Carolina Homeland Security Act (Wiretap Act), S.C.Code Ann. § 17–30–10 et. seq. (Supp. 2010), which generally prohibits the interception of communications. A circuit court judge granted the motion to suppress.1

The State filed an interlocutory appeal with the court of appeals and sought to vacate the trial court's suppression order pursuant to the Wiretap Act. The court of appeals correctly granted the State's motion to vacate and found that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the Wiretap Act requires that a motion to suppress be made before a panel of judges of the court of appeals.

Thereafter, the court of appeals held a suppression hearing, including the taking of testimony and oral arguments. Stepfather testified that he believed recording the conversation would aid the parents in deciding the best course of action for the victim, including determining whether she needed sexual abuse counseling. Likewise, Mother testified she believed recording the conversations would be useful because she did not know what the conversations between the victim and Appellant entailed, the victim was crying often, and she needed to determine if it was appropriate to permit Appellant to have contact with the victim.

On the legal issue of consent, the court of appeals held that the Legislature, in enacting the Wiretap Act, intended to adopt the vicarious consent doctrine. Mother could, therefore, lawfully vicariously consent to the recording on behalf of the victim. On the factual matter, the court of appeals found that Mother had a good faith and objectively reasonable basis for believing the recording was necessary and in the victim's best interest, and it therefore denied Appellant's motion to suppress. The court of appeals sent the case back to the trial court.

At trial, the recording of the phone conversation between Appellant and the victim was admitted, over Appellant's continuing objection. The State also introduced a videotape of the victim's forensic interview. The contents of the interview were similar to the underlying allegations the victim first [399 S.C. 552]disclosed to Mother and the testimony given by the victim at trial. The videotape was admitted over Appellant's objections of improper bolstering and hearsay. The jury convicted Appellant of CSC with a minor in the first degree, and he was sentenced to prison. This appeal follows.

II.

Appellant claims the Wiretap Act was violated because neither he nor the victim, the parties to the communication, consented to the recording. Conversely, the State claims the Wiretap Act was not violated because the recording fell within the consent provision. Specifically, the State contends the statute allows Mother, as a guardian to the minor victim, to vicariously consent on behalf of the victim to record the telephone conversation between the victim and Appellant.

The South Carolina Wiretap Act is patterned after the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (Federal Act). This Court must determine whether the Wiretap Act allows or bars the admission of the recording.

Questions of statutory interpretation are questions of law, which are subject to de novo review and which we are free to decide without any deference to the court below. Transp. Ins. Co. & Flagstar Corp. v. S.C. Second Injury Fund, 389 S.C. 422, 427, 699 S.E.2d 687, 689 (2010); Catawba Indian Tribe of S.C. v. State, 372 S.C. 519, 524, 642 S.E.2d 751, 753 (2007).

The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate the

[732 S.E.2d 864]

intent of the legislature. Sloan v. Hardee, 371 S.C. 495, 498, 640 S.E.2d 457, 459 (2007). “All rules of statutory construction are subservient to the one that the legislative intent must prevail if it can be reasonably discovered in the language used, and that language must be construed in light of the intended purpose of the statute.” State v. Sweat, 386 S.C. 339, 350, 688 S.E.2d 569, 575 (2010). Absent an ambiguity, the court will look to the plain meaning of the words used to determine their effect. City of Rock Hill v. Harris, 391 S.C. 149, 155, 705 S.E.2d 53, 55 (2011). “Under general rules of statutory construction, a jurisdiction adopting legislation from another jurisdiction imports with it the judicial[399 S.C. 553]gloss interpreting that legislation.” Orr v. Clyburn, 277 S.C. 536, 540, 290 S.E.2d 804, 806 (1982).

The Wiretap Act is violated when a person intercepts oral communications that are not otherwise exempt from or subject to an exception contained in section 17–30–30. Evidence intercepted in violation of the Wiretap Act must be suppressed. SeeS.C.Code Ann. § 17–30–110. However, when a party to a communication gives consent for the communication to be intercepted, such recording does not violate the law. The full text of the consent provision states:

It is lawful under this chapter for a person not acting under color of law to intercept a wire, oral, or electronic communication where the person is a party to the communication or where one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to the interception.

S.C.Code Ann. § 17–30–30(C) (emphasis added).


Appellant argues that because there is no explicit provision permitting vicarious consent, parental consent on behalf of a minor was not intended to be an exception to the Wiretap Act. We disagree.

Our Wiretap Act parallels the Federal Act passed by Congress in 1968, which similarly permits lawful interception where one party to the communication consents.2 Because no South Carolina cases have addressed a parent's ability to vicariously consent to the recording of a child's telephone conversations and because the Federal Act is substantively the same as South Carolina's Wiretap Act, we look to the federal courts' interpretations regarding vicarious consent. See Orr, 277 S.C. at 540, 290 S.E.2d at 806 (“Under general rules of statutory construction, a jurisdiction adopting legislation from another jurisdiction imports with it the judicial gloss interpreting that legislation.”).

[399 S.C. 554] The leading federal case is Pollock v. Pollock, 154 F.3d 601 (6th Cir.1998). In Pollock, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a mother did not violate the Federal Act when she recorded conversations between her daughter and the daughter's stepmother. The Pollock court, adopting the rule first enumerated in Thompson v. Dulaney, 838 F.Supp. 1535, 1544 (D.Utah 1993), articulated the doctrine of vicarious consent as follows:

[A]s long as the guardian has a good faith, objectively reasonable basis for believing that it is necessary and in the best interest of the child to consent on behalf of his or her minor child to the taping of telephone conversations, the guardian may vicariously consent on behalf of the child to the recording.

154 F.3d at 610;see also Wagner v. Wagner, 64 F.Supp.2d 895, 896 (D.Minn.1999) (holding a guardian may consent on behalf of a minor to the interception of a communication); Campbell v. Price, 2 F.Supp.2d 1186, 1191 (E.D.Ark.1998) (holding a parent's good faith concern for his minor child's best interest may empower the parent to legally intercept the child's conversations); Thompson v. Dulaney, 838 F.Supp. 1535, 1544 (D.Utah 1993) (finding the vicarious consent doctrine permissible under the federal wiretap statute

[732 S.E.2d 865]

because of a parent's duty to act in the best interest of their child).


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55 practice notes
  • People v. Badalamenti
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • April 5, 2016
    ...1144, 1150–1153, 2014 ME 70, ¶¶ 21–32 [2014] ; Commonwealth v. F.W., 465 Mass. 1, 6–14, 986 N.E.2d 868, 871–877 [2013] ; State v. Whitner, 399 S.C. 547, 552–556, 732 S.E.2d 861, 863–865 [2012] ; State v. Spencer, 737 N.W.2d 124, 130–134 [Iowa 2007] ; Alameda v. State, 235 S.W.3d 218, 222–22......
  • People v. Badalamenti, No. 71
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • April 5, 2016
    ...1144, 1150–1153, 2014 ME 70, ¶¶ 21–32 [2014] ; Commonwealth v. F.W., 465 Mass. 1, 6–14, 986 N.E.2d 868, 871–877 [2013] ; State v. Whitner, 399 S.C. 547, 552–556, 732 S.E.2d 861, 863–865 [2012] ; State v. Spencer, 737 N.W.2d 124, 130–134 [Iowa 2007] ; Alameda v. State, 235 S.W.3d 218, 222–22......
  • Commonwealth v. F.W., SJC–11152.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • April 24, 2013
    ...exception of the Federal wiretap statute, or under the cognate provision of their State wiretapping statute. See, e.g., State v. Whitner, 399 S.C. 547, 554, 732 S.E.2d 861 (2012) (adopting vicarious consent doctrine under State wiretap statute that was patterned on Federal wiretap statute);......
  • Holmes v. State, No. 2575, Sept. Term, 2016
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 5, 2018
    ...(2013) 465 Mass. 1, 986 N.E.2d 868, 873–875 [adopting doctrine and extending it to adult sibling of child victim]; State v. Whitner (2012) 399 S.C. 547, 732 S.E.2d 861, 864–865 ; State v. Spencer (Iowa 2007) 737 N.W.2d 124, 133–134 (Spencer ).) Intermediate appellate courts in several other......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
55 cases
  • People v. Badalamenti
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • April 5, 2016
    ...1144, 1150–1153, 2014 ME 70, ¶¶ 21–32 [2014] ; Commonwealth v. F.W., 465 Mass. 1, 6–14, 986 N.E.2d 868, 871–877 [2013] ; State v. Whitner, 399 S.C. 547, 552–556, 732 S.E.2d 861, 863–865 [2012] ; State v. Spencer, 737 N.W.2d 124, 130–134 [Iowa 2007] ; Alameda v. State, 235 S.W.3d 218, 222–22......
  • People v. Badalamenti, No. 71
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • April 5, 2016
    ...1144, 1150–1153, 2014 ME 70, ¶¶ 21–32 [2014] ; Commonwealth v. F.W., 465 Mass. 1, 6–14, 986 N.E.2d 868, 871–877 [2013] ; State v. Whitner, 399 S.C. 547, 552–556, 732 S.E.2d 861, 863–865 [2012] ; State v. Spencer, 737 N.W.2d 124, 130–134 [Iowa 2007] ; Alameda v. State, 235 S.W.3d 218, 222–22......
  • Commonwealth v. F.W., SJC–11152.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • April 24, 2013
    ...exception of the Federal wiretap statute, or under the cognate provision of their State wiretapping statute. See, e.g., State v. Whitner, 399 S.C. 547, 554, 732 S.E.2d 861 (2012) (adopting vicarious consent doctrine under State wiretap statute that was patterned on Federal wiretap statute);......
  • Holmes v. State, No. 2575, Sept. Term, 2016
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 5, 2018
    ...(2013) 465 Mass. 1, 986 N.E.2d 868, 873–875 [adopting doctrine and extending it to adult sibling of child victim]; State v. Whitner (2012) 399 S.C. 547, 732 S.E.2d 861, 864–865 ; State v. Spencer (Iowa 2007) 737 N.W.2d 124, 133–134 (Spencer ).) Intermediate appellate courts in several other......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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