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Law School Case Brief

State v. Williams - 301 S.C. 369, 392 S.E.2d 181 (1990)

Rule:

Proof of chain of custody need not negate all possibility of tampering, but must establish a complete chain of evidence as far as practicable.

Facts:

Defendant and the occupants of another car were seriously injured in an automobile accident. Thereafter, the investigating officer secured a subpoena duces tecum directing a hospital to produce the results of blood alcohol tests performed on defendant. Based on defendant's blood alcohol content, the officer obtained a warrant for defendant's arrest. Subsequently, defendant was convicted of two counts of felony driving under the influence. On appeal, defendant urged that the subpoena duces tecum was invalid and that the state insufficiently established the chain of custody of his blood test.

Issue:

  1. Was the subpoena duces tecum used to obtain defendant’s BAT invalid?
  2. Did the State sufficiently establish the chain of custody of defendant’s blood test?

Answer:

1) Yes. 2) Yes.

Conclusion:

As to the first issue, the Court held that the subpoena was defective in that it was issued when no action was pending against defendant. However, because the indictment was not factually defective, the court found that the motion to dismiss on this ground was properly dismissed. As to the second issue, the Court held that there were cumulative breakdowns in the chain of custody. Hence, it was fatally defective. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.

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