Collier v. State, 15161

Docket NºNo. 15161
Citation101 Nev. 473, 705 P.2d 1126
Case DateSeptember 05, 1985
CourtSupreme Court of Nevada

Page 1126

705 P.2d 1126
101 Nev. 473
Gregory Alan COLLIER, Appellant,
The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.
No. 15161.
Supreme Court of Nevada.
Sept. 5, 1985.

Page 1127

[101 Nev. 474] Morgan D. Harris, Public Defender, Terrence M. Jackson, Susan Deems Roske, Deputy Public Defenders, Las Vegas, for appellant.

Brian McKay, Atty. Gen., Carson City, Robert J. Miller, Dist. Atty., James Tufteland, Carolyn Ellsworth, Deputy Dist. Attys., Las Vegas, for respondent.

101 Nev. 476] OPINION


The appellant, Gregory Alan Collier, shot and killed a convenience store clerk and robbed the store. Following his arrest and indictment, a jury convicted Collier of first degree murder with use of a deadly weapon, and of robbery with use of a deadly

Page 1128

weapon. After a penalty hearing, the jury returned a death sentence. Collier appeals the first degree murder conviction and the imposition of the death sentence. We affirm the conviction, but we set aside the death sentence and we remand for a new penalty hearing.

The record indicates that in Las Vegas, on the evening of June 3, 1981, nineteen-year old Gregory Collier went out drinking. That night he consumed at least eight beers and several "shots" of tequila, as well as several Quaaludes. By eleven P.M., he was having trouble walking. Nevertheless, early the next morning he had found his way to a Stop 'N Go convenience store. Two witnesses saw him there with the store's clerk, Earl Harris. Later, Harris was found shot to death in the store, with his hands bound behind his back. Some money and a pocket calculator were missing. Collier's fingerprint was found in the store, and he was arrested. The stolen calculator was discovered in Collier's possession.

The Clark County Grand Jury indicted Collier. After a trial, a jury convicted him for first degree murder and robbery, both aggravated through the use of a deadly weapon. In the ensuing penalty hearing, testimony covered Collier's troubled adolescence, his relative youthfulness at the time of the murder, and certain prior offenses.

After receiving testimony as to aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the court limited closing arguments to only one hour per side, despite defense counsel's objections. Then, during the arguments, the court repeatedly permitted the prosecuting attorneys to overstep established bounds of legitimate advocacy--[101 Nev. 477] again, in most instances, over defense counsel's objections. Due to the limitation on final argument, combined with the effect of this prosecutorial misconduct, we feel compelled to set aside the death sentence and to remand the case for a new penalty hearing. Because the district court's failure to correct multiple incidents of prosecutorial misconduct constituted the more egregious of its errors, we will address the prosecutor's rhetorical improprieties first.


Thus, once again, we regretfully turn to consider the problem of prosecutorial misconduct: a burden to the judicial system that is totally unnecessary and, so far as the prosecution is concerned, often self-defeating.

Our district courts have a duty to ensure that every accused shall receive a fair trial. E.g., Garner v. State, 78 Nev. 366, 373, 374 P.2d 525 (1962). This duty requires that trial courts exercise their discretionary power to control obvious prosecutorial misconduct sua sponte. State v. Cyty, 50 Nev. 256, 259, 256 P. 793 (1927); accord Viereck v. United States, 318 U.S. 236, 237, 63 S.Ct. 561, 562, 87 L.Ed. 734 (1943); Greenberg v. United States, 280 F.2d 472, 474 (1st Cir.1960); Commonwealth v. Sherman, 294 Mass. 379, 2 N.E.2d 477, 484 (1936). Unfortunately, in the instant case, the trial court did not restrain prosecutorial misconduct when defense counsel tendered timely contemporaneous objections, nor did it intervene sua sponte in other appropriate instances.

For example, in closing argument during the penalty phase, the prosecuting attorney based an appeal that Gregory Collier should die upon references to the criminal history of one of Nevada's most notorious criminals, Patrick McKenna, who currently is under sentence of death. 1 Inter alia, the prosecuting attorney asserted:

Page 1129

[101 Nev. 478] The prison doesn't rehabilitate.

* * *

Sure. We rehabilitate a few criminals and we are lucky sometimes but to the large part prisons don't rehabilitate.

And some people would argue that the purpose, the sole purpose, of prison is to incapacitate and contain someone as Mr. Dougherty testified.

Well, I suppose that prison does do that and Mr. Jackson [the public defender] asks you to return a life sentence for Gregory Collier so that he can be incapacitated.

But, prison does not prevent crimes against fellow inmates, ladies and gentlemen.

Prison didn't keep Patrick McKenna--

[defense objection interposed and overruled

Prison didn't keep Patrick McKenna, one of our more notable inmates, from strangling his fellow inmate in jail, J.J. Nobles.

These remarks--which sought to promote a conclusion that Collier's rehabilitation was improbable, that he might well kill again while in prison, and that he should therefore be put to death--were highly inappropriate. See State v. McLoughlin, 133 Ariz. 458, 652 P.2d 531, 536 (1982); People v. Jones, 225 Cal.App.2d 598, 37 Cal.Rptr. 454, 464 (1964). Comments of this sort divert the jury's attention from its proper purpose, which is the determination of the proper sentence for the defendant before them, based upon his own past conduct.

It should be noted that these remarks were also improper because they discussed matters not in evidence. Patrick McKenna was not on trial; the record contained no evidence whatever about his unrelated criminal history; no factual basis whatever existed for suggesting any relationship between McKenna and Gregory Collier. Of course, it may be proper for counsel to go beyond the evidence to discuss general theories of penology such as the merits of punishment, deterrence and the death penalty. E.g., Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 160, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 2919, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976) (Stewart, Powell & Stevens JJ. opinion); Davis v. State, 665 P.2d 1186, 1200-01 (Okla.Crim.App.1983). In general, however, factual matters outside the record are irrelevant and are not proper subjects for argument to the jury. State v. Kassabian, 69 Nev. 146, 149, 153-54, 243 P.2d 264 (1952). And here, by equating Collier's unknown future in prison to the history of McKenna as portrayed in the media, the prosecuting attorney deliberately sought to convince the jury that there was but one "rational" solution--i.e., to execute Collier before he could kill again.

[101 Nev. 479] Another instance of prosecutorial misconduct concerns an appeal that the jury must be angry with Collier or else "we are not a moral community...." The prosecutor declaimed:

The moral community is one which has its base in law and trust and others have to obey these laws.

Gregory Collier has violated that trust....

If we are not angry with him, the implication then is we are not a moral community and that is--

[objection interposed and overruled]

* * *

Your anger is a sign of your caring on the part of this community and its citizens.

The chance to see that this killer gets what he deserves is something this society, this community, needs.

In justification of this effusion, the prosecution now urges us that general comments about community standards are proper, and that Gregg v. Georgia, supra, supports this position. The Gregg decision, however, discussed a legislature's implementation of the community's moral outrage through legislation. Id. U.S. at 186-

Page 1130

87, 96 S.Ct. at 2931 (Stewart, Powell & Stevens, JJ. opinion). Gregg in no way supports the view that a prosecutor may blatantly attempt to inflame a jury by urging that, if they wish to be deemed "moral" and "caring," then they must approach their duties in anger and give the community what it "needs": "[t]he chance to see that this killer gets what he deserves."

The prosecuting attorney also improperly commented over objection that Collier "would still have hope, hope of escape, pardon...." Remarks about the possibility of escape are improper. See State v. McLaughlin, 652 P.2d 531, 536 (Ariz.1982). The prospect of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
71 cases
  • State v. Clark, 17265
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • March 9, 1989
    ...460 (1986)), judgment reinstated, 809 F.2d 700, cert. denied, 478 U.S. 1022, 106 S.Ct. 3337, 92 L.Ed.2d 742 (1987); Collier v. State, 101 Nev. 473, 705 P.2d 1126 (1985). The State admits that the content of the inquiry cannot be defended but argues that failure to object waived this issue, ......
  • State v. Allen, 23,493.
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • December 1, 1999
    ...the jury to consider an improper factor while disingenuously disclaiming any intention to rely on that factor. See Collier v. State, 101 Nev. 473, 705 P.2d 1126 (1985); Jacobs v. State, 101 Nev. 356, 705 P.2d 130 {98} Although we acknowledge that the prospect of reversal on appeal is not a ......
  • State v. Schierman, 84614-6
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • May 5, 2015 she was strangled to death), vacated on other grounds, 494 U.S. 1023, 110 S.Ct. 1466, 108 L.Ed.2d 604 (1990), with Collier v. State, 101 Nev. 473, 480-81, 705 P.2d 1126 (1985) (prosecutor's statement that "the coroner ‘had to carry [the victim] out of that store in a body bag and bury hi......
  • Atkins v. Gittere, Case No. 2:02-cv-01348-JCM-BNW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Nevada
    • July 10, 2020
    ...that the jury should return a verdict of death in order to please the jury members' friends and neighbors. He cites Collier v. State, 101 Nev. 473, 705 P.2d 1126 (1985), in support of his position. In Collier, this court disapproved of a prosecutor's statement to the jury that it must be an......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT