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State v. Pradubsri

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

July 19, 2017

The State, Respondent,
Jo Pradubsri, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2015-000208

          Heard November 9, 2016.

         Appeal From Lexington County Clifton Newman, Circuit Court Judge

          Appellate Defender John Harrison Strom, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Attorney General William M. Blitch, Jr., both of Columbia; and Solicitor Samuel R. Hubbard, III, of Lexington, for Respondent.

          MCDONALD, J.

         Jo Pradubsri appeals his convictions for trafficking in crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine within the proximity of a school (the proximity charge), and unlawful carrying of a pistol. Pradubsri argues the circuit court erred when it (1) refused to reveal an informant's identity, (2) found reasonable suspicion existed to justify his traffic stop, (3) gave an erroneous jury instruction on reasonable doubt, (4) refused to grant a directed verdict on the proximity charge, and (5) allowed testimony from a former codefendant that Pradubsri manufactured crack cocaine in his residence and participated in a drug sale immediately before the traffic stop. We affirm.

         Factual Background

         Around 3:00 a.m. on November 9, 2008, Sergeant John Finch of the Lexington County Sheriff's Department stopped Pradubsri's vehicle on St. Andrews Road in Irmo based on an informant's tip that the vehicle would likely contain crack cocaine and weapons. Finch conducted the stop as Pradubsri's vehicle exited a Kroger parking lot less than half a mile from an elementary school. Pradubsri was driving with his then-girlfriend, Melissa Martin, sitting in the passenger's seat. When Finch approached the vehicle, he saw furtive or shuffling movements and observed a black 9mm semi-automatic pistol on Pradubsri's side of the car. As Finch removed Pradubsri and Martin from the car, another officer saw that Martin had a small baggie in her clinched fist, a baggie in her waistband, and an unnatural bulge in her pants. In total, police found four baggies of crack weighing approximately seventy-five grams on Martin. Police also found a smaller .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol in a purse under a seat.

         Law and Analysis

         I. Reasonable Suspicion

         Pradubsri argues police lacked reasonable suspicion to justify the traffic stop because the informant's information was neither sufficiently particularized nor corroborated. We disagree.

         Before trial, [1] the State proffered testimony about the informant, whom Sergeant Finch had arrested for drugs and prostitution in the past. Finch testified he had used the informant multiple times before Pradubsri's arrest, he always found her information to be reliable, and she had assisted with several cases involving individuals on the "Midland's Most Wanted" list.

         In Pradubsri's case, the informant participated informally by making "ten to twenty" phone calls to police over a three-month period. Through these calls, she relayed information about Pradubsri's and Martin's vehicle, their travel plans, their nicknames, and the locations where they sold drugs. Specifically, the informant told police the pair mostly sold drugs in hotels and motels and "were moving up and down Bush River [Road] down to St. Andrews [Road] and then back into the Irmo area." The informant also reported where Pradubsri and Martin lived, how much cocaine they bought per week, and where it was cooked into crack.

         According to the informant, if Pradubsri was driving at night with Martin as his passenger, the vehicle would likely contain crack and weapons. The informant also identified the weapons: Pradubsri carried a black 9mm Hi-Point semiautomatic pistol, and Martin had a small silver .25-caliber semi-automatic.

         On the night of the traffic stop, Finch spotted the silver 2001 Chevy Monte Carlo with a dent on the front right panel on St. Andrew's Road. Pradubsri was driving and Martin was his passenger. Finch had previously dealt with both Pradubsri and Martin but testified he knew Martin "a little more extensively from the prostitution and drugs and on the street." After Finch and another deputy approached Pradubsri's vehicle, Finch saw the handle of a pistol protruding from the gap between the driver's seat and the car's center console.[2] At this point, Finch ordered Pradubsri and Miller to step out of the vehicle, and the deputies found the drugs and second weapon.

         Pradubsri moved to suppress the evidence seized during the traffic stop, arguing police did not have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity necessary to justify the stop. The trial court found the stop proper based upon the reliable information provided by ...

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