Fields v. Com., No. 2004-SC-000091-MR.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
Writing for the CourtCunningham
Citation274 S.W.3d 375
PartiesSamuel Steven FIELDS, Appellant, v. COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee.
Decision Date23 October 2008
Docket NumberNo. 2004-SC-000091-MR.
274 S.W.3d 375
Samuel Steven FIELDS, Appellant,
v.
COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee.
No. 2004-SC-000091-MR.
Supreme Court of Kentucky.
October 23, 2008.
Rehearing Denied February 19, 2009.

[274 S.W.3d 390]

Emily Holt Rhorer, Thomas More Ransdell, Department of Public Advocacy, Frankfort, KY, Counsel for Appellant.

Jack Conway, Attorney General, David A. Smith, Michael A. Nickles, Jr., Office of Attorney General, Criminal Appellate Division, Frankfort, KY, Counsel for Appellee.

Opinion of the Court by Justice CUNNINGHAM.


Appellant, Samuel Steven Fields, was convicted of murder and first-degree burglary and sentenced to death. He appeals to this Court as a matter of right, Ky. Const. § 110(2)(b), raising forty-nine allegations of error. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment.

Background

Appellant was convicted of the murder of Bess Horton. During the early morning hours of August 19, 1993, two Grayson police officers responded to a call from the duplex apartment of Elmer Pritchard. Pritchard rented the apartment from Bess Horton, whose own single-family home was located nearby.

When Officers Lindeman and Green arrived in the area, they noticed a light on at Horton's home and the garage door open. The storm window on the front porch had been removed and the window was open. The doors were locked and Lindeman went through the open window into Horton's bedroom. Inside, he found Horton's body lying on the bed. Her throat had been slashed and a knife had been buried into her right temple. He also found Appellant in the bedroom. In his possession, he had a small knife, some jewelry, and other items belonging to Horton. The knife, a small butter knife, had a broken tip. At trial, the Commonwealth argued Appellant used this knife to remove screws from a storm window at Horton's house.

Appellant was arrested at the scene but denied killing Horton. According to Appellant, he had been drinking heavily and consuming "horse tranquilizers" throughout the afternoon of August 18, 1993. He was accompanied by his girlfriend, Minnie Burton; Phyllis Berry; and other friends. After driving around Carter and Boyd Counties for several hours, Burton and Appellant returned to Grayson and headed for Appellant's mother's apartment. They continued drinking with Appellant's brother, John Fields, who also lived at the apartment.

Eventually, Burton and Appellant began fighting and Appellant started throwing furniture, knives, and other objects around the living room. Burton left, stating that she was going to her own residence. She also lived in the duplex owned by Horton and occupied by Pritchard. The testimony concerning what transpired after this point was conflicting.

Burton testified that she left the apartment because Appellant's behavior scared her. She headed towards her duplex apartment on Horton's property, but was unable to gain entry. Pritchard had locked the door because Horton was in the process of evicting Burton. Burton had lived rent-free in the duplex in exchange for running Horton's errands and chauffeuring her. The relationship had turned sour, however, and Horton had turned off the power and water in the duplex in an attempt to force Burton out. Thus, on the evening of August 18th, Burton was unable to gain entry into her apartment.

274 S.W.3d 391

In light of this circumstance, Burton testified that she sat on the front porch of the duplex. Appellant arrived some time later with a knife in his hand and was making a loud commotion. He told Burton that he had killed his brother, John, though Burton also testified that she did not fully believe the claim (in fact, Appellant had not killed his brother). He then took Burton's keys and told her that he would get into the duplex, implying that he might break in. Burton left, leaving through the backyard of the duplex as Appellant went around the side to the front door. Unbeknownst to either Burton or Appellant, Elmer Pritchard had heard the noise outside and had called the police.

Burton testified that she went to the nearby home of her aunt and uncle, Bernice and Kenny Floyd, and told them about Appellant's claim that he had killed his brother. She used their telephone to call Phyllis Berry, but did not get through. She departed the Floyds' house and walked to the home of Mary Click, where she encountered her cousin, Kim Mayle. Mayle drove Burton back to Appellant's mother's apartment to see if John Fields was alright. Finding no one home, they returned to Click's house. Burton slept there until the next morning when police arrived to question her.

According to Appellant, he left the duplex and walked over to Horton's home to look for Burton. Appellant told police that Burton was angry with Horton for evicting her and that she wanted to rob her. Appellant claimed that when he arrived at Horton's residence, he saw the open window and entered the house through that opening. The bedroom had already been ransacked, so he began pocketing anything he could find. Appellant claims that he did not notice Horton's body on the bed until police arrived.

Appellant was tried before a Rowan Circuit Court jury and found guilty of murder and burglary. He was sentenced to death. On direct appeal, this Court reversed the judgment. See Fields v. Commonwealth, 12 S.W.3d 275 (Ky.2000). Appellant was retried upon change of venue to the Floyd Circuit Court. He was again convicted of murder and first-degree burglary and sentenced to death. It is from that judgment that he now appeals as a matter of right.

Standard of Review

Appellant raises forty-nine issues for our review. In the interest of clarity, we have grouped these issues into categories. Several of these cited errors are unpreserved. Nonetheless, in light of the penalty imposed and pursuant to KRS 532.075(2), we review even unpreserved allegations of error. The standard of review for such unpreserved errors is:

Assuming that the so-called error occurred, we begin by inquiring: (1) whether there is a reasonable justification or explanation for defense counsel's failure to object, e.g., whether the failure might have been a legitimate trial tactic; and (2) if there is no reasonable explanation, whether the unpreserved error was prejudicial, i.e., whether the circumstances in totality are persuasive that, minus the error, the defendant may not have been found guilty of a capital crime, or the death penalty may not have been imposed.

Johnson v. Commonwealth, 103 S.W.3d 687, 691 (Ky.2003), citing Sanders v. Commonwealth, 801 S.W.2d 665, 668 (Ky.1990).

Jury Issues

Scope of Voir Dire

Appellant alleges that he was denied a fair jury selection process. To support this contention, Appellant relies on four rulings of the trial court that limited the

274 S.W.3d 392

parameters of voir dire: (1) the denial of Appellant's motion to use a juror questionnaire; (2) the denial of Appellant's motion to ask four specific questions concerning the death penalty; (3) the failure to grant alternate questioning of potential jurors during voir dire; and (4) the failure to grant adequate peremptory challenges. Upon a thorough review of the relevant portions of the record, we conclude that the jury selection in this case satisfied due process requirements.

Appellant sought to elicit background information from potential jurors through the use of an expanded juror questionnaire. According to Appellant, the fourteen-question form would help to identify areas where further questioning of a juror might be necessary. It posed open-ended questions such as: "What are your feelings and beliefs about the death penalty?" and "What type of case comes to mind as appropriate for the death penalty?"

A central purpose of voir dire is to give the trial court the opportunity to visually observe the demeanor and affect of a potential juror. The use of a juror questionnaire, particularly one which poses substantive questions, defeats this purpose. "While preliminary instructions acquainting the jury with the nature of the judicial process are perfectly proper, providing jurors in advance with specific questions they will be asked so they can prepare in advance to answer such questions is an abuse of voir dire which must not be tolerated." Sanborn v. Commonwealth, 754 S.W.2d 534, 546 (Ky.1988), overruled on other grounds by Hudson v. Commonwealth, 202 S.W.3d 17 (Ky.2006). In denying the use of Appellant's proposed juror questionnaire, the trial court acted well within the scope of its discretion to control voir dire. See St. Clair v. Commonwealth, 140 S.W.3d 510, 531-32 (Ky.2004).

Appellant unsuccessfully moved the trial court to ask each prospective juror four questions concerning the death penalty.1 Though these specific questions were rejected, Appellant was afforded the opportunity to meaningfully question prospective jurors about the death penalty. During individual voir dire, the trial court informed prospective jurors of the possible penalties in the case and inquired whether they could consider the entire range. Defense counsel was permitted to ask followup questions specifically concerning the death penalty and mitigation, as required by RCr 9.38. While counsel is entitled to question jurors on whether they can consider the entire range of penalties should a guilty verdict be returned, there is no "affirmative right to ask certain specific questions of prospective jurors." Thompson v. Commonwealth, 147 S.W.3d 22, 53 (Ky. 2004) (citation omitted). "The extent of direct questioning by counsel during voir dire is a matter within the discretion of the trial court." Tamme v. Commonwealth, 973 S.W.2d 13, 25 (Ky.1998). There was no abuse of that discretion in this case.

The trial court denied Appellant's motion to allow the Commonwealth and the defense to ask alternate questions during voir dire. RCr 9.38 does not set forth an order in which prospective jurors

274 S.W.3d 393

should be questioned, as Appellant asserts. Rather,...

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48 practice notes
  • St. Clair v. Commonwealth, 2011-SC-000774-MR
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
    • August 21, 2014
    ...This Court has long held that "it isPage 24within the trial court's discretion to limit the scope of voir dire." Fields v. Commonwealth, 274 S.W.3d 375, 393 (Ky. 2008), overruled on other grounds by Childers v. Commonwealth, 332 S.W.3d 64 (Ky. 2010). Moreover, Justice Leibson's concern was ......
  • St. Clair v. Commonwealth, No. 2011–SC–000774–MR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
    • August 21, 2014
    ...Court. This Court has long held that “it is within the trial court's discretion to limit the scope of voir dire.” Fields v. Commonwealth, 274 S.W.3d 375, 393 (Ky.2008), overruled on other grounds by Childers v. Commonwealth, 332 S.W.3d 64 (Ky.2010).Moreover, Justice Leibson's concern was ab......
  • Dunlap v. Commonwealth, 2010-SC-000226-MR
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
    • June 20, 2013
    ...entire process, from summoning the venire to choosing the petit jury which actually hears and decides the case. Fields v. Commonwealth, 274 S.W.3d 375 (Ky. 2008); Soto v. Commonwealth, 139 S.W.3d 827 (Ky. 2004). Our review of the rulings [Appellant] challenges is thus limited to determining......
  • Hunt v. Com., No. 2006-SC-000634-MR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
    • March 18, 2010
    ...Appellant was not subjected to double jeopardy or multiple punishment for the same offense. Id. at 308; see also Fields v. Commonwealth, 274 S.W.3d 375, 419 Hunt contends that Bowling, along with McClellan, should be overruled. However, we remain convinced of the soundness of the holding in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
48 cases
  • St. Clair v. Commonwealth, 2011-SC-000774-MR
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
    • August 21, 2014
    ...This Court has long held that "it isPage 24within the trial court's discretion to limit the scope of voir dire." Fields v. Commonwealth, 274 S.W.3d 375, 393 (Ky. 2008), overruled on other grounds by Childers v. Commonwealth, 332 S.W.3d 64 (Ky. 2010). Moreover, Justice Leibson's concern was ......
  • St. Clair v. Commonwealth, No. 2011–SC–000774–MR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
    • August 21, 2014
    ...Court. This Court has long held that “it is within the trial court's discretion to limit the scope of voir dire.” Fields v. Commonwealth, 274 S.W.3d 375, 393 (Ky.2008), overruled on other grounds by Childers v. Commonwealth, 332 S.W.3d 64 (Ky.2010).Moreover, Justice Leibson's concern was ab......
  • Dunlap v. Commonwealth, 2010-SC-000226-MR
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
    • June 20, 2013
    ...entire process, from summoning the venire to choosing the petit jury which actually hears and decides the case. Fields v. Commonwealth, 274 S.W.3d 375 (Ky. 2008); Soto v. Commonwealth, 139 S.W.3d 827 (Ky. 2004). Our review of the rulings [Appellant] challenges is thus limited to determining......
  • Hunt v. Com., No. 2006-SC-000634-MR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
    • March 18, 2010
    ...Appellant was not subjected to double jeopardy or multiple punishment for the same offense. Id. at 308; see also Fields v. Commonwealth, 274 S.W.3d 375, 419 Hunt contends that Bowling, along with McClellan, should be overruled. However, we remain convinced of the soundness of the holding in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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