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State v. Wrapp

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

August 16, 2017

The State, Respondent,
Stanley Lamar Wrapp, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2015-000909

          Heard May 4, 2017

         Appeal From Greenwood County Thomas A. Russo, Circuit Court Judge

          Taylor Davis Gilliam, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General John Benjamin Aplin, of Columbia; and Solicitor David Matthew Stumbo, of Greenwood, for Respondent.

          McDONALD, J.

         Stanley Lamar Wrapp appeals his convictions for possession with intent to distribute (PWID) cocaine base and driving under suspension (DUS), arguing the circuit court failed to make the required findings that he had proper notice of his trial date and that his absence was voluntary before trying him in absentia. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

         Facts and Procedural History

          On October 17, 2013, Greenwood County Drug Enforcement (GCDE) officers initiated a traffic stop and arrested Wrapp for driving with a suspended license. When Wrapp was searched incident to the arrest, the officers found crack cocaine in his pocket. A subsequent search of Wrapp's vehicle uncovered more crack, a set of digital scales, and a razor knife like those commonly used to cut crack cocaine. Wrapp was charged with DUS and trafficking in crack cocaine.

         On October 18, 2013, Wrapp signed bond paperwork showing his court date was December 6, 2013, and providing "[i]f no disposition is made during that term, the defendant shall appear and remain throughout each succeeding term of court until final disposition is made of his case." The paperwork also stated, "I understand and have been informed that I have a right and obligation to be present at trial and should I fail to attend the court, the trial will proceed in my absence."

         On July 14, 2014, Wrapp's case was called for trial before the Honorable William P. Keesley. Wrapp's trial counsel asked for a continuance, in part, so he could have more time to investigate an issue regarding a confidential informant (the CI). Judge Keesley granted the continuance.

         On Monday, September 29, 2014, Wrapp's case was re-called for trial before the Honorable Thomas A. Russo. After jury selection, trial counsel moved for a continuance because Wrapp was not present. Trial counsel stated, "I don't have personal knowledge of why he isn't here. I don't know if . . . his absence is voluntary or involuntary." In response, the State asserted that following the July 2014 continuance, the solicitor told Wrapp "that his case would be called for trial the next time we could get to it." The State also contended that during this conversation the solicitor told Wrapp he would not make any deals after the week of July 14. Finally, the State asserted it was contacted three weeks prior to trial by a private attorney whom Wrapp had asked to represent him. Subsequently, this attorney "declined to get involved due to the fact that [the case] was up for trial." Upon inquiry, trial counsel responded that he did not know whether this attorney had informed Wrapp of his upcoming trial date.

         The circuit court noted a bench warrant had been issued for Wrapp, and trial counsel confirmed that the public defender's office had an investigator looking for him. In response, the circuit court stated,

[T]he difficult thing is you led off with this observation that is we don't know whether his absence here today is a voluntary or not voluntary absence. I don't know what his situation is or why he's not here. But it does appear that he was noticed to be here. For whatever reason[, ] he's not here. I don't really have a valid reason. I don't see any purpose that would be served in continuing the case. . . . [I]f he makes himself unavailable, that's-I just don't know that you can make yourself unavailable and then use that as a basis for getting a continuance granted. . . . So I'm going to respectfully deny the motion for a continuance. I hope your investigator finds him this afternoon or this evening and then he can show up and be of assistance to you. But we're going to go ahead and proceed whether he's present or not.

         Trial counsel asked for a delay until Wednesday, October 1, but the circuit court declined, stating it would begin Wrapp's trial at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 30. Trial counsel objected, stating, "For the record . . . . I don't feel like Mr. Wrapp has been adequately noticed and we object to going to trial." The circuit court ...

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