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State v. Wyatt

Supreme Court of South Carolina

October 25, 2017

The State, Respondent,
v.
Shawn Lee Wyatt, Petitioner. Appellate Case No. 2016-001303

          Heard June 14, 2017

         Appeal from Lancaster County DeAndrea G. Benjamin, Trial Court Judge

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

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Assistant Attorney General William M. Blitch Jr., both of Columbia, and Solicitor Randy E. Newman Jr., of Lancaster, for Respondent.

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

          JUSTICE FEW

         Shawn Lee Wyatt appeals his convictions for attempting to furnish contraband to a prisoner and possession with intent to distribute cocaine, cocaine base, and marijuana. He argues the trial court erred by not suppressing two eyewitness identifications. We affirm the trial court's decision not to suppress the primary identification. We find, however, the police identification procedure was not unnecessarily suggestive, and thus the trial court should have addressed the suppression question only under the first prong of Neil v. Biggers.[1] As to the other identification, we find no error. We affirm Wyatt's convictions.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         At approximately 5:45 a.m. on July 12, 2013, Kershaw Correctional Institute Officer Joe Schnettler was at his post in a watch tower when he observed a man run from the woods to the fence surrounding the prison. Schnettler watched the man throw eight packages over the fence, and then run back into the woods. During the incident-which lasted no more than thirty seconds-Schnettler radioed other prison officers and announced each time the man threw another package over the fence. Schnettler estimated his distance from the man to be eighty or ninety yards. After the incident, Schnettler described the suspect as a "white man" wearing "long jean shorts and a dark shirt."

         A few minutes later, Kershaw Correctional Institute Officer Brenda Lippe was driving to work when she passed a man walking away from the prison on Highway 601.[2] When Lippe arrived at work, she heard about the incident at the fence, and told the correctional officer in charge of contraband, Corporal Christopher Hunt, she had seen a man walking away from the prison on Highway 601. She described him as "a light skinned black gentleman with a nice neat haircut, black shirt and . . . charcoal-colored shorts."

         The correctional officers informed the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office that there was a "black male wearing a black shirt and jean shorts" walking on Highway 601 who may have been involved with a contraband incident at the prison. At approximately 6:00 a.m., Deputy Charles Kirkley saw Wyatt walking along Highway 601. Kirkley stopped Wyatt and asked for his identification. Kirkley then informed Hunt he found the suspect.

         Hunt and Schnettler left the prison and drove to the side of the road where Kirkley was holding Wyatt. Schnettler asked Kirkley to let Wyatt out of the car so he could see Wyatt standing up. After looking at him, Schnettler said, "Yeah, that's the guy I saw." When asked at trial "what about the appearance of that man enabled you to say that, " Schnettler testified it was the "clothing he was wearing and how light the skin was on his legs." Schnettler stated, "The skin color of his legs looked different" because his calves were "shiny."

         Kirkley put Wyatt back in the patrol car and drove to the prison so Lippe could identify him. When they arrived, Kirkley, Hunt, and Wyatt got out of the car and stood next to it. Lippe-who was in a watch tower forty or fifty yards away- positively identified Wyatt as the man she had seen walking on Highway 601 a few minutes earlier.

         The contents of the packages thrown over the fence were tested and determined to be powder cocaine, cocaine base, [3] and marijuana. Based on the identifications made by Schnettler and Lippe, the State charged Wyatt with attempting to furnish contraband to a prisoner, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession ...


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