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State v. Rivers

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

February 11, 2015

The State, Respondent,
v.
Mitchell Rivers, Appellant

Heard: January 8, 2015.

Appeal From Chesterfield County. Paul M. Burch, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2011-186026.

Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, and Appellate Defenders Breen Richard Stevens and Benjamin John Tripp, all of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, and Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Ellis Roberts, all of Columbia; and Solicitor William Benjamin Rogers, Jr., of Bennettsville, for Respondent.

LOCKEMY, J. FEW, C.J., and THOMAS, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 264

[411 S.C. 552] LOCKEMY, J.:

Mitchell Rivers was convicted of homicide by child abuse following the death of his four-month-old adopted son (the victim). Rivers appeals his conviction, arguing the trial court erred in admitting evidence of injuries the victim sustained at an earlier time because no evidence connected Rivers to the injuries. We affirm.

FACTS

The State alleged the victim died of asphyxiation while in Rivers's custody. Rivers claimed the victim's death was an accident and " did not occur under circumstances that manifest extreme indifference to human life."

Before trial, Rivers filed a motion to exclude " certain aspects of the collateral evidence that was observed during the [victim's] autopsy." In a memorandum filed with the court, Rivers explained he was seeking to exclude " evidence of any extraneous injuries to the [victim] . . . that occurred prior to [411 S.C. 553] the [victim]'s death." He asserted " [t]here [wa]s no nexus between these extraneous injuries and the causes of death of the [victim]" and that " [e]vidence of alleged prior child abuse is inadmissible where there is no evidence that the [d]efendant inflicted the previous injuries." The State filed a memorandum supporting admission of the evidence, arguing " the constellation of injuries is evidence of child abuse and neglect, directly relevant pursuant to [Rule 404(b), SCRE,] to counter [Rivers's] argument of mistake or accident" and to establish motive.

During a pretrial hearing on Rivers's motion, the trial court stated it would admit the parties' memoranda as court exhibits and noted both parties " clearly stated [their] positions." The trial court denied Rivers's motion,

Page 265

stating, " These child cases are getting a little different treatment than what we normally are use[d] to involving adult cases and other type criminal cases." The trial court concluded its ruling by informing Rivers, " ...


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