October 17, 2018
from Laurens County Eugene C. Griffith Jr., Circuit Court
OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS
Appellate Defender LaNelle Cantey DuRant, of Columbia, for
Attorney General Alan M. Wilson and Assistant Attorney
General Jonathan Scott Matthews, both of Columbia; and
Solicitor David M. Stumbo, of Greenwood, all for Respondent.
a case about the amount or weight of an illegal drug. For
self-evident reasons, the possession of an illegal drug
carries increased penalties as the amount of the drug in the
possession of the offender increases. In this case,
Petitioner Daniel Herrera was convicted of "trafficking
in"-meaning, possessing-between ten and 100 pounds of
marijuana, which carries a substantial term of imprisonment.
The penalty for possessing fewer than ten pounds of marijuana
is less severe. Moreover, drug trafficking is classified as a
violent and serious crime, affecting Herrera's parole
eligibility now and in the future.
trial, Herrera contended that he did not knowingly possess
any marijuana. Moreover, Herrera disputed the weight of the
marijuana-allegedly, ten pounds, 2.78 ounces-by challenging
(1) the qualifications of the State's marijuana expert,
police officer Jared Hunnicutt, and (2) the accuracy of the
purported weight of the marijuana.
Herrera's challenges were unsuccessful, and following his
trafficking conviction, the court of appeals affirmed the
admission of Hunnicutt's testimony regarding the weight
of the marijuana in a summary unpublished opinion. State
v. Herrera, Op. No. 2016-UP-424 (S.C. Ct. App. filed
Oct. 12, 2016). We granted Herrera's petition for a writ
of certiorari, and we now reverse, for under the
circumstances presented it was an abuse of discretion to
permit Hunnicutt to testify to the weight of the marijuana.
Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals and remand to
the trial court for a new trial.
was arrested when he appeared at a post office to claim a
package that law enforcement had intercepted. The package
contained six bags of suspected marijuana. Herrera was
indicted for trafficking in marijuana over ten pounds and
less than 100 pounds. At trial, the State attempted to
qualify Detective Hunnicutt of the Laurens Police Department
as an expert in marijuana analysis. The basis for his alleged
expertise came from his experience as a police officer, as
well as attending a single course sponsored by the South
Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Hunnicutt had never been
qualified as a marijuana analyst in General Sessions court
prior to his testimony here.
appellate court reviews [the] trial [court's] ruling on
admissibility of evidence pursuant to an abuse of discretion
standard. . . ." State v. Torres, 390 S.C. 618,
625, 703 S.E.2d 226, 230 (2010). Similarly, "[t]he trial
court's decision to admit expert testimony will not be
reversed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion."
State v. Price, 368 S.C. 494, 498, 629 S.E.2d 363,
365 (2006). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the
conclusions of the trial court either lack evidentiary
support or are controlled by an error of law." State
v. Douglas, 369 S.C. 424, 429- 30, 632 S.E.2d 845, 848
702 of the South Carolina Rules of Evidence governs the