scales of justice

The S.C. Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a Laurens man on marijuana trafficking charges. The judges reversed the conviction of Daniel Martin Herrera, who was arrested in August 2010 found guilty on Dec. 18, 2013 and sentenced to five years, with credit for time served.

The state Supreme Court cited issues with a Laurens police officer’s testimony and the weight of drugs seized during the case.

The opinion, written by Justice John W. Kittredge, was released on Jan. 30. As a result, Herrera’s conviction and sentence were reversed and remanded for a new trial.

In the opinion, Justice Kittredge wrote, “Herrera 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. … At trial, the State attempted to qualify Detective (Jared) Hunnicutt of the Laurens Police Department as an expert in marijuana analysis.”

The opinion said the basis for Hunnicutt’s alleged expertise was from his experience as a police officer along with a single State Law Enforcement Division course. He had never been qualified as a marijuana analyst in General Sessions court before.

At trial, the judge said he was uncomfortable qualifying Detective Hunnicutt as an expert. The judge did not allow Hunnicutt to be qualified broadly as an expert in analysis but did allow him to be qualified as an expert in identification.

The Supreme Court opinion also included concerns with the officer’s testimony regarding the weight of the marijuana, which was reported to have weighed 10 pounds, 2.78 ounces.

Herrera had appealed the court’s initial correction unsuccessfully, but the Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals had erred in its decision.