State v. Barnes

Citation753 S.E.2d 545,407 S.C. 27
Decision Date15 January 2014
Docket NumberNo. 27322.,27322.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Steven BARNES, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2010–178247.


Elizabeth Anne Franklin–Best of Blume Norris & Franklin–Best LLC, and Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, both of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka and Senior Assistant Attorney General Melody Jane Brown, all of Columbia, and Solicitor Donald V. Myers, of Lexington, for Respondent.


Appellant was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Samuel Sturrup (victim). The jury found two aggravating circumstances, kidnapping 1 and physical torture,2 and recommended a death sentence. The judge sentenced appellant to death for the murder, and imposed no sentence for the kidnapping. On appeal, appellant contends the trial court erred in permitting his attorney to call a defense psychiatrist to testify regarding appellant's right to represent himself and in denying his Faretta3 request, in limiting voir dire and in qualifying Juror # 203, and in refusing to dismiss the indictments because of the State's failure to comply with the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD) Act.4 We find the trial judge applied the incorrect competency standard in denying appellant's Faretta request and reverse.


Appellant was approximately twenty-three years old and living in Augusta, Georgia, where he surrounded himself with high school students. Two of the high school boys, Richard Cave and Antonio (Tony) Griffin testified that on Labor Day 2001, appellant called them to meet him at his “green house” in Augusta. The boys were high school seniors, who enjoyed hanging out with appellant because, as Cave testified, appellant had money, girls, and cars. When Cave and Griffin arrived, they found victim already there, along with Charlene “China” Thatcher and appellant's younger half-brother William Harris.

Appellant accused victim of stealing appellant's money, and was beating the victim with his fists, a pole, and a shock absorber. China was also accused and hit, and Griffin obeyed appellant's order to beat victim. As the night progressed, Harris left and appellant called two South Carolina brothers, the Hunsbergers, to come to the green house in Augusta. After the Hunsbergers arrived, everyone left for South Carolina. Appellant, China, Griffin, and Cave followed the Hunsbergers in appellant's car, with the victim in their car trunk, to a remote area of Edgefield County. There, appellant ordered China, Griffin, and Cave to shoot the victim, with appellant administering the coup de grace. Appellant told the others they were as guilty as he, and all kept quiet until parts of victim's skeleton and other identifying information were found in November 2001.

China, Griffin, and Cave, all of whom testified in the guilt phase, were serving eighteen-year sentences in Georgia for their assault of victim and faced the potential for additional charges in Georgia and South Carolina.


Did the trial judge commit reversible error in denying appellant's request to waive counsel and proceed pro se?


Appellant, whose competency to stand trial has never been in question, moved to be allowed to proceed pro se on the Friday before the trial was to commence on Monday, citing Faretta. Appellant was unequivocal that he was not seeking a delay or a continuance. He asked for all relevant documents to be provided for his review, and asked if he could possibly subpoena the Hunsbergers who were incarcerated in Georgia. After being placed under oath, appellant told the court he was thirty-two years old, had an 11th grade education, had been self-employed, and that he understood the charges against him and the possible sentences. He acknowledged having had an attorney in his other criminal cases, including one before this same judge.5 Appellant acknowledged he understood he would be held to the same standards as an attorney regarding the rules of court and of evidence.

The trial judge questioned appellant under oath about a specific rule of evidence, his understanding of the prohibition of hybrid representation, his current mental health status,6 and his familiarity with courtroom procedureand prior experience as a criminal defendant. Appellant demonstrated an understanding of the process of capital voir dire, stated his intention to pursue a third-party guilt defense at trial and discussed the relevant case law, the burden of proof, and his right to testify. Appellant also appeared to be familiar with the niceties of error preservation, for example, the need to place objections and the court's rulings on the record.

The judge then inquired into appellant's reasons for wanting to proceed pro se. Appellant answered that his request to proceed pro se was driven by trust issues, and that he had another attorney or two in mind to use as standby counsel in lieu of his appointed attorneys. As an example of the disagreement between appellant and his attorneys leading to his loss of trust in them was their decision not to subpoena the Hunsberger brothers because of counsels' belief that the brothers would invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to testify. Appellant explained that if the brothers did decline to testify, then he would use transcripts of their sworn testimony in the Georgia proceedings under Rule 804(3), SCRE. Appellant also explained his intent to refer to himself in the third person when examining witnesses. Finally, appellant explained that he lost trust in his appointed attorneys because while he had instructed them not to move for a continuance in order to preserve his IAD Act request, he had learned that they had made such requests.

The judge concluded by telling appellant, “I think you're making a mistake, but you have the right to make a mistake. I think you're making an unwise choice, but you have the right to make an unwise choice. I would advise you not to do this....” The judge asked appellant to reconsider the decision and discuss it again with his appointed attorneys. Appellant agreed to do so. After a break, the judge told the attorneys to provide the discovery materials to appellant for his review over the weekend, and announced he was taking the Faretta motion under advisement until Monday.

On Monday, the judge qualified the venire and set up voir dire panels before taking up the Faretta request.

At the commencement of the hearing, one of appellant's attorneys (Tarr) referred the court to Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164, 128 S.Ct. 2379, 171 L.Ed.2d 345 (2008), which holds that a state may hold a defendant who seeks to represent himself at trial to a higher competency standard than that required to stand trial. Tarr stated that “a couple of different experts that we've hired to evaluate [appellant] for purposes of the sentence phase are of the opinion that he is very competent to stand trial, but he lacks the competency to waive his right to counsel and conduct the proceedings on his own.” Tarr had Dr. Price, a psychologist previously retained by the defense as a mitigation witness, present and ready to testify regarding appellant's competency.

Appellant immediately objected to Dr. Price's testimony. First, he based his objection on the “doctor/client” relationship and the attendant privilege. He explained that he talked to Dr. Price only for penalty phase mitigation purposes, and stated, “If I'd have known that he was going to be adverse to me, I wouldn't have talked to him.” Appellant then distinguished Edwards, pointing out that the defendant in that case was before the trial judge on his second or third competency to stand trial hearing when the waiver of counsel issue arose. Appellant continued:

In this case here, you know, this was never an issue. I brung forth to you—I explained to you in detail when you asked me questions the last time we spoke and I brought forth everything, you know, just like you asked me to do. And the Edwards case is totally different from the factual situation of my case.

And I object to Dr. Price getting on the stand, because, like I say, I'm not giving him no permission to say anything in regards to me, talking about me, because like I say, my attorneys, that's part of my defense, you know, when we get to the penalty phase. Once we get to that phase, then, you know, I consent for him to furnish that information to the jury for migation [sic].

The judge then asked if appellant was asking him to make a decision without adequate information. Appellant answered with a qualified yes, saying that he was entitled to due process and specifically denying his permission for Dr. Price to testify about “things that had been in [appellant's] mental records for years.” He again emphasized the doctor/client relationship, and that Dr. Price represented him. Tarr stated that neither he nor Mr. Harte (the lead attorney) nor Dr. Price were “trying to be adversarial” but were instead trying to make the court aware of all the issues. Appellant again objected to any expert testimony from Dr. Price except in the penalty phase and suggested, “if you appoint a state official to conduct that [competency to waive counsel] review, then that's a different story.” The judge responded that he did not know of any procedure that would allow him to do so.7 Attorney Harte responded that since Edwards failed to state the standard for competency to waive, it did not seem possible to order an evaluation. Appellant reiterated that the question was Faretta because his was not an Edwards situation as there is no indication that he, unlike the defendant Edwards, is “sick.”

Following Dr. Price's testimony, the trial judge denied appellant's request to proceed pro se based upon a finding that appellant did not meet the heightened Edwards standard for competency to represent himself at...

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24 cases
  • Winkler v. State, Appellate Case No. 2014-000904
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • November 23, 2016
    ...also Guideline 8.1, ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases (2003); State v. Barnes, 407 S.C. 27, 753 S.E.2d 545 (2014) (dissent discusses need for specially qualified capital trial attorneys to help address the "heightened reliability" r......
  • Winkler v. State, Appellate Case No. 2014-000904
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • November 23, 2016
    ...also Guideline 8.1, ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases (2003); State v. Barnes, 407 S.C. 27, 753 S.E.2d 545 (2014) (dissent discusses need for specially qualified capital trial attorneys to help address the "heightened reliability" r......
  • State v. Hunsberger, Appellate Case No. 2015–000083
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • October 12, 2016
    ...granted.KITTREDGE, J., concurs.--------Notes:1 Steven Barnes' capital conviction was reversed on direct appeal. State v. Barnes , 407 S.C. 27, 753 S.E.2d 545 (2014).2 Julio's conviction is also being set aside on speedy trial grounds in an opinion filed today. State v. Hunsberger , Op No. 2......
  • State v. Barnes
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 22, 2020
    ...of his prosecution. However, our supreme court explored the underlying facts of the case in Barnes's first appeal. See State v. Barnes , 407 S.C. 27, 753 S.E.2d 545 (2014) (hereinafter Barnes I ). Additionally, the supreme court discussed the underlying facts in an appeal involving one of B......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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