Wednesday, June 13, 2007

S.C. Supreme Court reverses conviction on chain of custody grounds

In State v. Sweet, a jury found Sweet guilty for offenses related to the distribution and possession of crack cocaine within the proximity of a school. On appeal, Sweet argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence with a defective chain of custody. The Supreme Court reversed the distribution convictions on chain of custody grounds. No witness saw Sweet give drugs to the confidential informant and the informant was not called at trial. Without the testimony of the confidential informant, the State’s proof failed to establish a complete chain of custody for the drugs. According to the court:

None of the chain of custody witnesses testified to seeing inside the motel room in order to establish who was in the room making the alleged transaction. Additionally, none of the witnesses who heard only “one other voice” over the informant’s body wire could affirmatively identify this voice as being that of Appellant. Although Greenville police officers testified to a brief search of the informant both before and after the incident, and that they observed no other individuals enter or exit the room during their surveillance, this circumstantial evidence does not show how the informant came into possession of the drug evidence and in what condition he received it. Because the officers’ testimony does not fill the gap in the chain of custody left by the unavailable informant, the trial court erred in admitting the drug evidence received by the confidential informant.

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