Heard: June 3, 2014.
Appeal From Fairfield County. Brooks P. Goldsmith, Circuit Court Judge.
Appellate Defender David Alexander, of Columbia, for Appellant.
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Attorney General Mary Shannon Williams, both of Columbia, for Respondent.
KONDUROS, J. WILLIAMS and LOCKEMY, JJ., concur.
[409 S.C. 457] KONDUROS, J.:
Michael D. Williams was convicted of two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor and five counts of committing
a lewd act upon a child. The trial court sentenced him concurrently to twenty-five years' imprisonment for CSC and fifteen years' imprisonment for lewd act upon a child. Williams appeals his convictions and sentence, arguing the trial court erred in excluding evidence the stepbrother of one of the victims sexually abused her. We affirm.
At trial, Susan Rowles (Mother) testified two of her children, Victim One and Victim Two (collectively, Victims), started attending daycare in 2003 at Williams's home. Mother stated she developed a friendship with Williams and his wife. According to Mother, Victims left Williams's daycare " [i]n late 2005 or 2006" for financial reasons, but Victim Two returned to Williams's daycare in 2006. Mother also stated Victim One did not return to Williams's daycare, but she occasionally visited Williams's home. According to Mother, in 2008, Victim Two told her she had been inappropriately touched at Williams's daycare. Mother stated she contacted her ex-husband (Father) about the allegation but did not ask Victims further questions about the incident.
Mother testified that in October 2008, Victim Two attended the South Carolina Department of Mental Health Assessment [409 S.C. 458] and Resource Center (ARC) in Columbia for a forensic interview. According to Mother, Victim One did not receive an ARC interview. Mother testified she took Victim Two to the ARC interview and completed an intake form prior to the interview. According to Mother, she answered all of the questions on the form truthfully. Mother testified she checked no to the question: " 'Has there ever been a child abuse investigation involving this child or the family before[?]'" She also testified there had not been a prior investigation on Victim 2.
Williams's counsel asked to approach, and the trial court held a bench conference. Thereafter, trial counsel placed on the record his arguments and the trial court's ruling on the ARC intake form, which the trial court apparently made at the time of a bench conference during Mother's testimony. Trial counsel argued:
Judge, this is a document that is used when someone goes for an ARC interview and [Mother] was the reporter, filled it out in her own handwriting. On question number five it says, " Has there ever been a child abuse investigation involving this child or family before? If yes describe," and [Mother] answered no. My intent at that time was to go ahead and impeach her about the events that we discussed yesterday that actually are not on the record yet . . . .
Trial counsel then explained that in April 2004, DSS reported to the Fairfield County Sheriff's Department that Victims' stepbrother (Stepbrother) " admitted to requiring or forcing [Victim One] to have oral sex with him over a period of time." According to trial counsel, the sheriff's department investigated the incident and, after discussing it with the family, the family decided to " handle the matter internally." Trial counsel asserted " that conduct is very relevant in this case because [Victim One] at the age of eight or nine was exposed . . . to sexual abuse." Counsel argued the evidence was admissible
[409 S.C. 459] to show that a child at the age of eight or nine goes through incredible psychosexual changes, psychological changes[,] which could affect her in her development and would have an impact on this case. Also it shows that she would have a source of knowledge about sexual activity independent completely of whatever she alleges . . . Williams did. . . . [W]hat I'm seeking to do now is use that information for impeachment purposes since the document was not answered truthfully because there was, in fact, an investigation involving the family before.
The State replied that it did not dispute the facts of Stepbrother's abuse as stated by
trial counsel. The trial court then noted it had previously sustained the State's objection to trial counsel's request to impeach Mother with the evidence of Stepbrother's abuse, finding the evidence
was not relevant at least at this time, that it would be a collateral impeachment, that [Mother] did answer the question by saying that how she had answered -- how she had answered that questionnaire, and I think that whether or not it was truthful or not has not been shown to be relevant at this stage. That ...