In the Case of State v. Miles The South Carolina Court of Appeals clarifies the definition on ‘knowingly’ in a rather entertaining opinion written by Greenville native, Judge Hill.
Lance L. Miles was convicted for trafficking illegal drugs. Miles was sentenced to 25 years and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. In Miles’ appeal he argued that the trial court improperly instructed the jury that the State did not have to prove Miles specifically knew which drugs he was in possession of; he also argued statements were admitted in Court that were in violation of Miranda. This article will focus on the Court’s clarification of the word ‘knowingly’.
The Lexington County Sheriff’s Office were scanning parcels at a FedEx office. Apparently, the Sheriff’s became suspicious of a package and arranged for a controlled delivery of the package. The Sheriff’s observed the delivery person ring the doorbell and leave the package by the front door. Moments later a cop saw Miles exit another apartment. The cop then saw a female emerge from the delivery address. The cop stated she looked at the package, got on her phone, hung up and went back inside. Miles then picked up the box and started back to his apartment. Miles noticed the cops closing in on him and he tried to ditch the box. The cops caught up to Miles and cuffed him.
One of the cops immediately asked Miles about what was in the package. Miles stated he did not know what was inside the package. The cop then asked if drugs were in the package to which Miles responded that drugs were probably in the package but he was unsure of what kind of drugs. Then the cop read Miles his Miranda rights and asked Miles whether there were drugs in the box again. Miles responded as he had prior to Miranda. The cop obtained a search warrant and got Miles’ consent to search the package. The cop found 300 pills that contained a total of 9 grams of oxycodone. The cop asked Miles to write down everything he knew about the drugs. The cop then read Miles his Miranda rights again! Miles wrote a statement that he had been paid $100 to pick up the package from someone named “Mark” that had called him to pick it up, and the owner of the package was a “Stacks” from Tennessee.
At trial, Miles’ argued the case should be dismissed because the State could not prove Miles knew the box contained oxycodone. Miles’ argued that the term “knowingly” applied to each element of the trafficking offense reasoning that the State had to prove that Miles knowingly intended to sell, manufacture, cultivate, or possess illegal drugs AND that Miles had precise knowledge of the type of drugs he had in this case. The Court of Appeals sited precedent which stated that criminal laws that open with ‘knowingly’ don’t necessarily require that each element of the law be proven by that level of intent. The Court reasoned that the Legislature did not intend to require the State to prove a defendant knew the specific type of illegal drug he was trafficking. The Court stated, ‘were we to adopt Miles’ version of subsection (e), the State would have to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant not only knew the drugs were oxycodone, but also knew that oxycodone is a “morphine, opium, salt, isomer, or salt of an isomer thereof, including heroin.’ The Court reasoned, “We doubt the Legislature, in passing the drug trafficking law, meant to create a scenario where a defendant is culpable only if armed with a proficiency in chemistry on par with a pharmacist or Walter White.”
Lawyers are often ridiculed as being too persnickety about the precise definition of words but an advocate must focus on words as in this case the interpretation of words was the difference between a dismissal and a mandatory 25 year prison sentence.
As one of my wisest law professors, Gerald Moran, once said, ‘law school has no meaning, we just play with words’.
Source: State v. Miles
Alex Kornfeld is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Greenville, South Carolina. If you have been arrested or are under suspicion of a crime, it may be in your best interest to consult with an attorney. You may reach Alex by phone at 864-335-9990.
A REVIEW OF STATE V. STANLEY LAMAR WRAPP
What if I don’t show up? They can’t try me in my absence, can they? Maybe they’ll just forget about it? These are just some of the thoughts a defendant may have. The pressure of a criminal trial is immense. Your very freedom is at stake but not showing up for trial is not a good idea.
In this case review, Stanley Lamar Wrapp appeals his convictions for possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and driving under suspension. Wrapp argued he did not have proper notice of his trial date. The Court agreed with Wrapp so the case will be remanded for a new trial. It will not be dismissed and I can bet Wrapp’s counsel would have preferred if Wrapp appeared for trial.
The appeals Court ruled that in order to try a defendant! in his absence the Judge must rule that the Defendant received notice of his right to be present AND that the Defendant was warned he would be tried in his absence should he fail to attend.
In this case, the Court found there was no finding from the Court that Wrapp was informed that he could be tried in his absence.
!In a non-capital case.
In The Case of State v. Preston Ryan Oates
On July 26, 2017, The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the Circuit Courts ruling denying Oates motion for immunity from prosecution pursuant to the Protection of Persons and Property Act as well as Oates’ challenge alleging the Circuit Court was incorrect in refusing to grant a directed verdict of acquittal on the grounds that the State failed to disprove self-defense.
On Christmas Eve of 2010 the deceased was visiting his brother and his family. The deceased parked his vehicle on the street in the neighborhood. Parking on the street was prohibited by the HOA. Oates was a tow truck driver hired by the HOA to tow vehicles parked on the streets. Oates put a boot on the deceased vehicle and was beginning to hook the vehicle up to the tow truck. A neighbor informed the deceased that his vehicle was in the process of being towed. The deceased, the deceased’s brother, and the neighbor asked Oates not to tow the vehicle. Oates felt intimidated and got back into his truck and locked it. Oates testified that the deceased told the neighbor to ‘go get my shotgun’. Deceased’s brother told Oates to ‘take that[boot] off his vehicle’. Oates said he responded, “Okay, let me call my office and see what they [want to] do and we’ll get a handle…It’s not a problem, we can work this out.” Oates testified he heard a round being chambered. Deceased allegedly said, ‘You’re going to take this off right now and I’m leaving”. Oates allegedly stated that was fine. The deceased brother stated the deceased pulled a gun out of his pants, ratcheted the gun, and said, “Nobody’s going to take my car.” This made Oates nervous. Oates began fumbling his keys when the deceased’s brother grabbed them. Oates stated the deceased inquired whether he had any paper work on the vehicle because he did not want law enforcement to ‘come look’ for him. Oates showed the deceased a ledger to assure him he had no paperwork on the minivan. Oates also pulled out his gun from the glove box at this time. Oates testified that a concerned lady that lived nearby offered to call 911 but that Oates stated, ‘Don’t worry about it, everything’s fine, go back inside, he’s got a gun, so everything’s okay here’ hoping to alert the lady without alerting the other men. The deceased then demanded that Oates take the book off the vehicle.
At this time a struggle ensued. This case came down to the credibility of the witnesses. Ultimately, Oates lost the battle of credibility and was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 26 years.
Procedurally, Oates requested immunity from prosecution because he argued there was evidence the deceased was trying to remove him from his vehicle. To be granted immunity Oates would have had to show that he had a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to himself while using deadly force when the deceased unlawfully and forcibly entered the vehicle he occupied or that the deceased attempted to remove Oates from his vehicle.
The Circuit Court denied Oates’ request for immunity reasoning that the facts did not show that the deceased was unlawfully or forcibly entering, or had entered Oates’ vehicle at a time when Oates’ had a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury. The Circuit Court found the deceased was walking away from Oates’ truck at the time Oates’ got out and shot the deceased. Further the Circuit Court held that Oates’ ‘use of deadly force against the victim was not necessary to prevent his own death or great bodily injury or the commission of a violent crime.” Further reasoning, ‘assuming that there was an “attack” previously, there was no such event at the time of the shooting.’
The Court clarified issues concerning the burden of proof concerning self-defense ruling that the State is not required to disprove the elements of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt at an immunity hearing but would have the burden if self-defense is properly submitted to the jury.
This appears to be a case that was decided almost entirely on the testimony of the eye witnesses and the forensic pathologist. In analyzing whether one has a self-defense claim testimony and timing are all too important.
Alex Kornfeld is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Greenville, SC. If you have been arrested or are under suspicion of a crime, it may be in your best interest to consult with an attorney. You may reach Alex by phone at 864-335-9990.
Source: State v. Preston Ryan Oates
SOUTH CAROLINA BY WAY OF THE CHINESE BUS LINES. AM I FREE TO LEAVE?
The Court of Appeals Rules in the case of State v. Eric Terrell Spears (S.C. App., 2017).
It matters whether a reasonable person believes they are free to leave in determining whether police are in a consensual encounter with suspects.
In this particular case, Mr. Spears was sentenced to 30 years from trafficking cocaine between ten and twenty-eight grams. DEA agents working with a sheriff’s office received a tip that one or two black males were traveling from NYC to South Carolina on the ‘Chinese bus lines.’ It was believed that the buses departed from Chinatown and oftentimes drug dealers used the buses. On March 29, 2012 two of the Chinese bus lines were scheduled to arrive in South Carolina. Three law enforcement officers were dispatched to one of the bus stops. Spears and a woman were getting off the bus. They retrieved four large bags and appeared to be nervous, they kept looking at the agents, and were talking amongst themselves.
Spears and the woman left the bust stop on foot. The agents followed them. Spears looked back. Williams (the woman) looked back. It appeared to law enforcement that the woman handed something to Spears. Law enforcement briskly caught up to the couple, identified themselves, and asked to speak with Spears and the woman. One of the law enforcement officers told Spears and the woman that in the past there had been wanted subjects, drugs, counterfeit merchandise on the line and asked them for an id.
An officer asked Spears if he had any illegal weapons. It was reported that Spears hesitated before saying “no”. An officer then asked about illegal items and Spears began to put his hands underneath his shirt and push the shirt away from his waistband and body. Spears did this two more times after being asked not to do it and an Officers told Spears he was going to search him for weapons. During the search, an officer felt an object consistent with the feel of crack cocaine. The officer removed the object.
Spears lawyer motioned to suppress the drugs based on the Fourth Amendment. The trial court implicitly ruled the encounter was consensual and denied Spears’ motion because Spears willingly stopped and talked with agents and the agents did not tell Spears he was not free to leave.
The Court of Appeals ruled the trial court erred by denying Spears’ motion reasoning that a person has been seized when a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave. A crucial question the Court considered was whether a person ‘would have felt free to decline the officers’ requests or otherwise terminate the encounter’. The Court ruled that under the totality of the circumstances a reasonable person would not believe he would be free to leave. Spears and Williams were approached by law enforcement officers, some of which had visible weapons. The officers followed Spears and the woman but waited to engage them until after they were alone, and the officers did not inform Spears he was free to go. The Court held that the officers lacked the reasonable suspicion necessary to stop him. Here, the Court ruled the information the officers acquired amounted to a hunch, which is not enough to rise to a level of reasonable suspicion.
Alex Kornfeld is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Greenville, SC. If you, or someone you know has been arrested, or is under suspicion of a crime, it may be in your best interest to consult with an attorney first. You may reach Alex by phone at 864-335-9990.
Source: State v. Eric Terrell Spears (S.C. App., 2017).