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State v. Miles

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

August 23, 2017

The State, Respondent,
v.
Lance Leon Miles, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2015-000308

          Heard June 7, 2017

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

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

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Megan Harrigan Jameson, Assistant Deputy Attorney General David A. Spencer, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Samuel R. Hubbard, III, of Lexington, for Respondent.

          HILL, J.

         Lance L. Miles appeals his conviction for trafficking in illegal drugs in violation of section 44-53-370(e)(3) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2016). He argues the trial court erred by: (1) instructing the jury, in reply to a question they posed during deliberation, that the State did not have to prove Miles knew the drugs were oxycodone; (2) denying his directed verdict motion; and (3) admitting three statements he contends were obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1960). We affirm.

         I.

         While scanning parcels for illegal drugs at the Federal Express office in West Columbia, agents from the Lexington County Sheriff's Office became suspicious of a package. They arranged for a controlled delivery to the listed address, which was within an apartment complex. Surveilling the delivery, they observed the delivery person ring the doorbell and leave the package by the front door. A few moments later, an agent noticed Miles exit a nearby apartment and begin walking around the parking lot. The agent then saw a young female emerge from the delivery address. She looked at the box, got on her phone, quickly hung up and went back inside. Miles then got on his phone while walking towards the box. Miles picked up the box and started back to his apartment. Seeing the agents advancing to intercept him, he tried to ditch the box. The agents apprehended and handcuffed him.

         Agent Edmonson immediately questioned Miles about the contents of the box. Miles claimed he did not know what was inside. Edmonson then asked if there were drugs inside the box; Miles responded there probably were, but he did not know what kind. At this point, Edmonson read Miles his Miranda rights and asked Miles again whether there were drugs in the box. Miles again responded the box could contain drugs, but he did not know what kind. Upon obtaining a search warrant and Miles' consent, the agents opened the box and discovered three hundred pills that a chemist later testified contained a total of nine grams of oxycodone. Edmonson next asked Miles to write down everything he knew about the box and the drugs. Edmonson then reread Miles his Miranda rights, and Miles wrote a statement admitting he had been paid one hundred dollars to pick up the box, someone named "Mark" had called him to pick it up, and the "owner" was a "Stacks" from Tennessee.

         Edmonson then wrote out two questions. First, "Did you know drugs are in the parcel 'box'?" Miles wrote, "Yes." The second question and answer-related to Miles' admission that he had previously picked up packages for money-were redacted and not presented to the jury.

         Miles was indicted for trafficking in illegal drugs, in violation of section 44-53-370(e)(3). He did not testify at his trial and moved unsuccessfully for directed verdict, arguing in part there was insufficient evidence he knew the box contained oxycodone. During the jury charge, the trial court gave the following instruction:

Mr. Miles is charged with trafficking in illegal drugs and in this case we are referring to [o]xycodone. The State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant knowingly delivered, purchased, brought into this state, provided financial assistance or otherwise aided, abetted, attempted or conspired to sell, deliver, purchase, or bring into this state and was knowingly in actual or constructive possession or knowingly attempted to become in actual or constructive pos[session] of the [o]xycodone. Possession may be either . . . actual or constructive.

         The trial court charged that the State bore the burden of proving the amount of oxycodone was more than four grams. The trial court further instructed that the State had to prove criminal intent, which required a "conscious wrongdoing, " and that intent may be inferred from the conduct of the parties and other circumstances. After deliberating for some time, the jury asked the following question: "Does the [S]tate have to prove that the defendant knowingly brought into the state four grams or more of [o]xycodone or just any amount of illegal drugs in order to consider this trafficking?"

         The trial court, over Miles' objection, replied to the jury as follows:

[T]he law in South Carolina is the State does not have to prove that the Defendant knew that the drugs in the package were [o]xycodone, just that he knew that the package contained illegal drugs. However, the State does have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the illegal drugs that were in the package w[ere] more than four grams of [o]xycodone.

         The jury later returned with a verdict of guilty. Because Miles had at least two prior drug convictions, he was sentenced to the mandatory minimum term of ...


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