State v. Orozco. (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-034-11, 7 pp.) (Thomas E. Huff, J.) Appealed from Aiken County Circuit Court. (J. Cordell Maddox Jr., J.) S.C. App. Click here for the full text of the opinion.
Holding: Evidence that a man accused of sexual misconduct with minors attempted suicide after one of the children told her mother was admissible to show his consciousness of guilt.
Analogizing a suicide attempt to evidence of attempted flight – which South Carolina law says is admissible to show consciousness of guilt – we join the overwhelming majority of other states that find evidence of attempted suicide was admissible.
We reject the defendant’s argument that the evidence was more prejudicial than probative and also find that the totality of the circumstances indicates that the defendant was aware of the allegations at the time he attempted to kill himself with rodent poison.
Before trial, the state moved to admit evidence of the defendant’s suicide attempt. Even though there was no S.C. law on the issue, the state contended that most other states allow such evidence.
The solicitor argued that there was circumstantial evidence that the defendant was aware of the children’s allegations – there was evidence that the mother of one of the victims told the defendant’s wife on the morning of the suicide attempt that one of the victims had alleged sexual abuse. The defendant’s wife was present when emergency medical services and the sheriff’s office arrived at the suicide attempt call.
The defendant argued that his suicide attempt was not based on a guilty conscience, but on his lack of faith in the judicial system. He argued that the prejudice from admitting the suicide attempt evidence outweighed the probative value and would confuse the jury.
Over the defendant’s objection, the state presented evidence that at 2:01 p.m. on June 22, 2006, officers were dispatched to the defendant’s residence in reference to a suicide attempt. A deputy testified that when he arrived at the home he found the defendant being treated for taking rodent poison. The deputy also found a box of poison and a purported suicide note written in Spanish.
The defendant was convicted of two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and two counts of lewd act upon a child and was sentenced to concurrent terms of 20 years for the CSC charges and 15 years on the lewd act charges.
The defendant appealed.
The defendant argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his suicide attempt. He contended that there was no S.C. authority supporting the admission of a suicide attempt as evidence of consciousness of guilt, and though S.C. law had held evidence of flight constitutes evidence of guilty knowledge and intent, our courts require proof that an accused is aware of the charges before evidence of flight becomes relevant and admissible.
Whether evidence of attempted suicide is probative of the accused’s consciousness of guilt is an issue of first impression in South Carolina. The question, however, is easily analogized to other types of circumstantial evidence of guilt based on the accused’s behavior after the crime.
First, our courts have held that any guilty act or conduct on the part of the accused is admissible as some evidence of consciousness of guilt. It has long been the rule in South Carolina that evidence of attempted flight is probative of the accused’s consciousness of guilt. Finally, the overwhelming majority of states considering this issue has determined that evidence of attempted suicide is generally admissible to establish consciousness of guilt.
We conclude that evidence of a suicide attempt is probative of a defendant’s consciousness of guilt and is generally admissible for whatever value the jury decides to give it.
We also conclude that the circumstances in the present case justify an inference that the defendant was aware of the sexual misconduct allegations against him by the child. The totality of the circumstances creates an inference that the defendant’s actions were motivated by his belief that sexual misconduct allegations had been made against him.
Although the defendant claims that he was prejudiced by the admission of the suicide attempt evidence, he fails to argue how he was prejudiced or why the prejudicial value of the evidence should outweigh its probative value.