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State v. Broadnax

Supreme Court of South Carolina

July 8, 2015

The State, Petitioner,
v.
Christopher Broadnax, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2013-000615

Heard February 4, 2015.

Appeal From Richland County G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Assistant Attorney General Julie Kate Keeney and Assistant Attorney General Mary Shannon Williams, all of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Appellate Defender LaNelle Cantey DuRant, of Columbia, for Respondent.

TOAL, CHIEF JUSTICE.

The State of South Carolina appeals the court of appeals' decision reversing Christopher Broadnax's (Respondent) convictions for armed robbery and kidnapping, and remanding for a new trial. We reverse in part and affirm in part the decision of the court of appeals.

Factual/Procedural History

At 5:30 p.m. on May 24, 2009, a masked gunman entered Church's Chicken on Two Notch Road in Columbia. He held one of the employees at gunpoint while the employee emptied the cash registers. Three other employees locked themselves in the kitchen. The gunman was wearing a striped shirt, had a distinctive "lazy eye, " and carried a clear plastic bag.

After the employee filled the bag with money from the registers, the gunman calmly exited the store, climbed into a "gray Dodge old model truck" driven by an accomplice, and left the scene. One of the employees chased the gunman outside and saw him riding in the passenger seat of the gray truck as the driver pulled out of the parking lot onto Two Notch Road.

Police responded to the scene within approximately three minutes, and based on the employees' descriptions of the getaway vehicle, stopped the driver a short distance from the Church's Chicken on Two Notch Road.[1] When officers approached the vehicle, they found Respondent crouched down on the floorboard of the passenger side. Officers immediately noticed that Respondent had a "lazy eye." The police officers found a gun and a bag full of money (matching the employees' descriptions) jammed under the truck's passenger seat, adjacent to Respondent. Further, one of the employees identified Respondent as the gunman in a "show-up" identification, and testified that he recognized Respondent's distinctive facial features, build, and clothing.[2]

Respondent was charged with one count of armed robbery and four counts of kidnapping.

After the State rested, Respondent indicated that he would testify in his own defense. Consequently, the State moved to admit Respondent's prior criminal record for purposes of impeachment. The trial court heard arguments and conducted an inquiry into which of Respondent's prior convictions should be admitted. Pursuant to Rule 609(a)(2), SCRE, and the court of appeals' opinion in State v. Al–Amin, 353 S.C. 405, 578 S.E.2d 32 (Ct. App. 2003), the trial court admitted three of Respondent's four prior armed robbery convictions.[3]

During his testimony, Respondent denied any involvement in the robbery. However, Respondent's counsel elicited testimony regarding Respondent's prior convictions for armed robbery.[4] The State likewise questioned Respondent about his prior convictions.

The trial judge then instructed the jury:

You've heard evidence that the defendant was convicted of a crime other than the one for which the defendant is now on trial. This evidence may be considered by you if you can conclude it is true only in deciding whether the defendant's testimony is believable and for no other purpose. You must not consider the defendant's prior record as any evidence of the defendant's guilt of the charge that we are trying here today.

The jury found Respondent guilty of armed robbery and four counts of kidnapping, and the trial judge sentenced Respondent to a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole based on Respondent's prior armed robbery convictions.

On appeal to the court of appeals, Respondent argued, inter alia, that the trial court erred in admitting his prior armed robbery conviction for impeachment purposes. See State v. Broadnax, 401 S.C. 238, 241, 736 S.E.2d 688, 689 (Ct. App. 2013). The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial. Id. Specifically, the court of appeals found: (1) Respondent's prior armed robbery convictions, without more, did not constitute crimes of dishonesty, and therefore, the trial court should have conducted a balancing test prior to admitting testimony regarding Respondent's prior armed robbery convictions; and (2) such error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 244-48, 736 S.E.2d at 691-93.

Issues Presented

I. Whether the court of appeals erred in finding that Respondent's prior armed robbery convictions were not crimes of dishonesty, and were therefore ...


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