August 20, 2014 South Carolina Court of Appeals published opinions

State v Pope 

Pope move to suppress a scale and some crack cocaine found during a warrantless search of a vehicle and objected to the introduction of these items based on chain of custody. The circuit court denied the motion overruled the objection and let the items into evidence. Pope was convicted of possessing the crack. The panel affirmed. It held the corroborated tips from the incarcerated informant provided reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle and the passenger’s observed bending over to apparently put something under the seat provided probable cause to search the vehicle. The panel also held the testimony that the scale was the same scale and a complete chain of custody for the crack supported admitting the items.

Bloody Point Property Owners Association, Inc. v Ashton 

Association foreclosed on Ashton’s property to collect unpaid association fees. After a default judgment was entered a third party purchased the property at a judicial sale. Ashton moved to set the sale aside. The master in equity refused and the panel affirmed.  It held the third party was a bona fide purchaser as he paid value and had no knowledge of Ashton’s claim that service by publication was ineffective in this matter. It also held there was substantial evidence supporting the master’s ruling that the purchase price was more than 10% of the property’s value and thus did not shock the court’s conscience.

The Milton P. Dementre Family Limited Partnership v Beckmann 

On remand from the Court of Appeals, the master in equity ruled Partnership did not have title to certain lots in Foley beach. The panel affirmed in part and vacated in part. It affirmed the master’s ruling that the parties did not stipulate that Partnership had title to the lots and affirmed the rejection of Beckman’s affirmative defenses as Partnership was not prejudiced by that ruling. The panel vacated the ruling that the state owned the lots and that Beckmann had rights to his pier as beyond the cope of remand. The panel finally affirmed the ruling that Partnership failed to prove title as the lots in question were not on the plats submitted as evidence in support.

Solanki v Wal-Mart Store #2806 

Wal-Mart employees attempted to swipe Solanki’s card several times then resorted to manually entering the information using a stenciled copy. The information entered belonged to a different person. Wal-Mart turned over the information about the transaction to the sheriff’s office which led to Solanki’s arrest. Solanki sued and obtained a judgment for actual and punitive damages. Wal-Mart appealed the punitive damages award. The panel, 2-1 affirmed. The majority held the evidence presented was sufficient to send the issue of punitive damages to the jury as the actions of Wal-Mart here could be reckless, willful or wanton. The majority also held that the trial judge properly upheld the punitive damages award as Wal-Mart’s action created the evidence for the arrest, Wal-Mart could have explained the reason the odd charge to the other person’s card took place, the award will encourage better oversight by retailers and Wal-Mart can afford to pay the award. The dissent argued that the weirdness of the transaction was insufficient for the issue of punitive damages to go to the jury and that no evidence at all was presented which demonstrates anything beyond a negligent entry of a credit card number.

State v McCombs 

The State sought to introduce evidence of a prior molestation at McCombs’ trial for lewd act against a child. The circuit court ruled the dissimilarities outweighed the similarities and denied the State’s motion. The State appealed and the panel reversed. It held that the similarities, including same sex of the victims, similar ages,  neighborhood residence, setting and the acts and behavior of McCombs, outweighed the minor dissimilarities and thus under Rule of evidence 404(b), the evidence should be allowed.

State v Blakney

Blakney was found to have violated his community supervision and placed on a new two year term of supervision. He was accused of violating the terms of his new program. The second circuit court ruled he had served the thirty month sentence actually given by the sentencing court and ordered the community supervision terminated. The panel, 2-1, affirmed in part, reversed n part and remanded. The majority held that under South Carolina Code 24-13-560(D), Blakney was actually sentenced to the minimum 15 years as the sentencing court lacked authority to suspend any part of it. Thus, Blakney can be required to serve up to fifteen years on community service or in prison unless he makes it through two years without a violation. The dissent argued that while the majority correctly construed the statute, the second circuit court decision should be affirmed as the state only wanted a five year sentence and the state should be held to its word.

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