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State v. Patterson

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

January 4, 2019

The State, Respondent,
v.
James Bubba Patterson, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2016-000863

          Heard October 3, 2018

          Appeal From Lexington County G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge.

          Appellate Defender Kathrine Haggard Hudgins, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Attorney General Mark Reynolds Farthing, both of Columbia; and Solicitor Samuel R. Hubbard, III, of Lexington, for Respondent.

          LOCKEMY, C.J.

         James Patterson appeals his convictions of armed robbery, grand larceny, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, arguing the trial court erred in (1) admitting DNA evidence that was not authenticated through proper chain of custody testimony, (2) admitting DNA evidence that constituted improper evidence of a prior bad act, and (3) indicating to the jury during opening statements that a trial was "a search for the truth." We affirm.

         FACTS

         On the afternoon of May 9, 2012, law enforcement responded to a reported armed robbery at the K&M Jewelry Store in West Columbia. According to witnesses, a man wearing a dark suit, sunglasses, and a dark fedora entered the store and pointed a handgun at the manager, Frank Mancine. The man then proceeded to gather various items of jewelry before Mancine pulled out a concealed pistol and attempted to shoot him. Mancine's gun jammed, and the man ran outside, where his hat fell to the sidewalk. Mancine followed the man to a nearby parking lot and watched him climb into the driver's seat of a light-colored van. As the van sped away, Mancine again fired his pistol, this time hitting the van's rear hatch window.

         Following an initial investigation, the West Columbia Police Department (WCPD) transported the fedora found at the crime scene to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) for forensic analysis. SLED subsequently collected a DNA sample from the fedora; from this sample SLED developed a DNA profile that it then entered into CODIS[1], a national DNA database for law enforcement. Based on an existing DNA profile within the CODIS system, the search identified James Patterson as matching the DNA sample taken off the hat.

         SLED notified the WCPD, who then created a photographic lineup containing pictures of Patterson and four other individuals. An investigator presented the lineup to Mancine and another witness; Mancine identified Patterson as the man from the jewelry store, although the other witness could not. Later that day, the WCPD obtained a search warrant for Patterson's vehicle, which they had located in the impound lot of a towing company. The vehicle matched the description of the van seen fleeing the jewelry store, and appeared to have a newly replaced rear hatch window as well as a puncture in its interior.

         Patterson was subsequently arrested in connection with the armed robbery. Following his arrest, investigators collected a separate DNA sample directly from Patterson, which they tested and matched with the DNA profile taken off the fedora found at the crime scene. Based on the match, the State indicted Patterson for armed robbery, grand larceny, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

         At the start of Patterson's trial, the trial court made the following preliminary comment to the jury:

It's a fundamental part of our democracy in a search for the truth in an effort to make sure that justice is done between the parties before the court. Searching for the truth and making sure that justice is done is often a slow, deliberate and repetitive process, the opposite of what you might have seen on television or in the movies or read in books. This courtroom is a place of honor dedicated to the protection and preservation of citizens' rights through what many have called the greatest justice system ever created.
The attorneys appearing before you are advocates for the parties they represent, but first and foremost they are officers of this court, sworn to uphold the integrity and fairness of our judicial system and to help you in a search for the truth.

(emphasis added). Patterson objected, arguing these remarks were prejudicial in that they impermissibly shifted the burden of proof away from the State. The ...


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