Heard September 8, 2015
Appeal From Orangeburg County. Doyet A. Early, III, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2012-213596.
Arthur Kerr Aiken, of Aiken & Hightower, and Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, both of Columbia, for Appellant.
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, and Assistant Attorney General Caroline M. Scrantom, all of Columbia; and Solicitor David Michael Pascoe, Jr., of Orangeburg, for Respondent.
MCDONALD, J. SHORT and GEATHERS, JJ., concur.
Cleophus N. Edwards, Jr. appeals his convictions for murder, first-degree burglary, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, arguing the circuit court erred in admitting into evidence (1) a laptop computer, (2) clothing and shoes from a suitcase, and (3) the results of DNA analysis and shoe imprint comparisons. We affirm.
On February 3, 2011, Carolyn Hanton (the victim) was stabbed to death inside her house. Aaron Hanton, the victim's husband, reported a red Acer laptop was missing from the house. On February 16, 2011, when police went to Appellant Edwards's house to execute an arrest warrant for a probation violation, an officer observed Edwards using a red Acer laptop and matched its serial number to the serial number from the victim's computer box. Police questioned Edwards about the laptop following his arrest, and he confessed to stabbing and robbing the victim. A grand jury subsequently indicted him for murder, first-degree burglary, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.
Before trial, Edwards moved to suppress evidence of the laptop, arguing police searched and seized it in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The State proffered the testimony of Officer Ryan Harter, who responded to the victim's house on February 3, 2011. Officer Harter testified that when the victim's family members informed him that a red Acer laptop was missing, he entered the serial number from the laptop's box into a police database and reported it as stolen.
Unrelated to the victim's murder, Officer Harter accompanied a team to Edwards's house on February 16, 2011, to execute an arrest warrant for a probation violation. There, Officer Harter observed Edwards sitting with a red Acer laptop on his lap. Officer Harter testified that he was familiar with computers, and the model he viewed on Edwards's lap was " extremely consistent" with the missing laptop from the victim's house. Officer Harter stated, " Acer is not a real popular brand. And the fact that it is a red laptop really kind of sets it apart. We knew it was a widescreen laptop, and so it met a lot of criteria just from [being] able to view it." Officer Harter testified that he turned the computer over to view the serial number and discovered it matched the serial number of the missing computer. On cross-examination, Officer Harter reiterated that the brand, color, and screen width of the computer caught his attention. Officer Harter stated, " I believe[d] it had a high probability of being the computer we were seeking." Officer Harter acknowledged Edwards did not give him permission to move the computer to view the serial number and that police did not have any prior knowledge or tips that the computer would be located at Edwards's house.
Edwards argued that even though he was on probation, he had the right to be free from unreasonable searches in his home, and Officer Harter needed reasonable suspicion to search the computer. According to Edwards, the computer was " really an innocent object," and simply observing a computer of the same brand and color as the ...