May 4, 2017
From Greenwood County Thomas A. Russo, Circuit Court Judge
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.
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.
and Procedural History
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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 ...