Heard January 13, 2016
Appeal from Richland County, Case No. 2015-000908, The Honorable DeAndrea G. Benjamin, Circuit Court Judge
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS
Appellate Defender Kathrine H. Hudgins, of Columbia, for Petitioner.
Attorney General Alan M. Wilson, Assistant Attorney General Susannah R. Cole, Assistant Attorney General Mary W. Leddon, and Solicitor Daniel E. Johnson, all of Columbia, for Respondent.
Melvin P. Stukes appeals his conviction for criminal sexual conduct (CSC) and first degree burglary, arguing the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's jury instruction that Victim's testimony need not be corroborated by additional evidence or testimony pursuant to Section 16-3-657 of the South Carolina Code (2003). We reverse and hold instructing the jury on this statute is an impermissible charge on the facts and therefore unconstitutional. We further overrule our precedent condoning this instruction.
On the evening of May 10, 2004, Victim arrived at her friend Jaqueline Bruton's home and informed her she had been sexually assaulted that evening. Bruton encouraged Victim to seek medical care and brought Victim to the Lexington Medical Center for an exam. At the hospital, Victim underwent a sexual assault examination, which included an interview, the collection of her clothing, and a vaginal swab. Although there was no sign of pelvic or vaginal injury, Victim did display some redness on her face around her cheek and eye, as well as around her neck.
By January 2005, a DNA profile was developed based on a sample obtained from Victim's underwear, but no match was found. Then, in June 2007, the DNA profile was finally matched to an individual-Stukes. The police attempted to locate Victim, but did not discover her whereabouts until early 2010, when a cold case team began investigating the matter. Finally, in May 2010, police arrested Stukes. He denied knowing Victim after being shown a picture of her and stated he had only had sex with two white women, and she was not one of them. However, when confronted with the evidence of her DNA, he admitted he must have had sex with her. He was ultimately charged with CSC and burglary; the case proceeded to trial before a jury.
At trial, Victim testified that on the evening of the incident she was getting ready for work around 9:30 p.m. when she heard a knock at the door. Upon opening the door, a man grabbed her throat and punched her in the face, causing her to stumble and fall over the side of her couch. She believed she blacked out after falling, and the next thing she remembered was her face being shoved into the pillows on her couch and a pain in her vaginal area as she was being raped. After blacking out again, Victim testified that once she regained consciousness, the man was gone and her clothes were down around her ankles. Victim stated she tried to call Bruton, but when she did not answer, she drove to Bruton's home. Victim could not identify the attacker, but denied ever having consensual sex with Stukes.
Stukes testified in his own defense. He stated he met Victim at a friend's apartment in the complex where she lived. After flirting awhile, Stukes alleged Victim invited him back to her apartment, where they ultimately ended up having sex.
During the jury charge conference, Stukes objected to the instruction on section 16-3-657, arguing it violated his right to equal protection and amounted to an impermissible comment on the facts. The trial court denied the request and included this statement in its charge: "The testimony of a victim in a criminal sexual conduct prosecution need not be corroborated by other testimony or evidence, " in addition to the general charge on credibility determinations.
During the course of deliberations, the jury submitted a number of questions to the trial court, including: "the South Carolina law that the victim's testimony in CSC . . . does not need to be corroborated, . . . does that law imply that the victim's testimony must be accepted as being true?" In response, the court simply recharged the general law on credibility determinations. The jury almost immediately ...