State v. Butler, 21690

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Citation277 S.C. 543,290 S.E.2d 420
Decision Date12 April 1982
Docket NumberNo. 21690,21690
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. James Anthony BUTLER, Appellant.

David I. Bruck, of S. C. Commission of Appellate Defense, Columbia, and O. Harry Bozardt, Jr., and John A. Nettles, Orangeburg, for appellant.

Atty. Gen. Daniel R. McLeod and Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen. Brian P. Gibbes, Columbia, for respondent.

HARWELL, Justice:

On March 11, 1981, appellant was convicted by an Orangeburg County jury of murdering Thakor Patel, of committing an assault and battery upon Ramila Patel with intent to kill her, and of unlawfully carrying a pistol. After finding that appellant committed the murder during the commission of a robbery while he was armed with a deadly weapon, the jury recommended the death penalty. The trial court adopted the recommendation and sentenced the appellant to death. This case consolidates the appellant's direct appeal and mandatory review of the death sentence.

On October 20, 1980, during the armed robbery of their motel in Santee, South Carolina, Mr. Patel was killed and Mrs. Patel was wounded. Appellant was arrested for the crimes the following day.

Appellant alleges several errors occurred during the course of his trial requiring the reversal of his conviction and sentence of death. We agree and reverse the convictions, vacate the death penalty and remand for a new trial.

Appellant argues that during the penalty phase of the proceeding, the solicitor injected his own personal opinion into the jury's deliberations, and therefore the resulting death sentence was not free from the influence of any arbitrary factor as required by S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-25(C)(1) and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

We have determined that a solicitor's closing remarks should be governed by the following principles:

While the solicitor should prosecute vigorously, State v. Davis, 239 S.C. 280, 122 S.E.2d 633, his duty is not to convict a defendant but to see justice done. State v. Allen, 266 S.C. 468, 224 S.E.2d 881 (1976). The solicitor's closing argument must, of course, be based upon this principle. The argument therefore must be carefully tailored so as not to appeal to the personal bias of the juror nor be calculated to arouse his passion or prejudice. State v. White, 246 S.C. 502, 144 S.E.2d 481 (1965). The trial judge is vested with a broad discretion in dealing with the propriety of the argument of the solicitor to the jury. State v. Durden, supra. Once the trial judge has allowed the argument to stand, as here, the defendant must bear the burden of demonstrating that the argument in effect denied him a fair determination of his guilt or innocence. On appeal, this Court will review the alleged impropriety of argument in the context of the entire record. State v. Woomer, S.C., 284 S.E.2d 357 (1981); State v. Linder, S.C., 278 S.E.2d 335 (1981).

Here, as in Woomer, the solicitor attempted to minimize the jury's sense of responsibility for appellant's fate by stressing that he himself had already made the same decision he was asking them to make.

First, it has to pass over my desk. I make the decision. People elect me to make the decision as to whether or not I think cases ought to be prosecuted. We don't prosecute all the cases. And I think that's one of the hardest impressions sometimes that we have to make, because people think that I am the mouthpiece of the county or the mouthpiece of the police and that everything that comes along Norman Fogle has got to get up there and holler and advocate a position. That is not correct. I have to use my common sense. So I can share with you just to a small degree this morning how each and everyone of you feel, because as I stated yesterday before that in order for this case to get moving as far as the death penalty was concerned I first had to make that decision, you see, and I have in my opinion, based upon the evidence in this case, overall, decided that if we are going to have a death penalty law on the books that if there were any facts that could ever justify it this case justifies it, justifies it.

Although no timely objection to the remarks was made at trial, this Court will review the record in favorem vitae in a capital case. State v. Adams, S.C., 283 S.E.2d 582 (1981). We conclude that the solicitor's jury arguments during the penalty phase require that appellant's sentence of death be vacated. When a solicitor's personal opinion is explicitly injected into the jury's determinations as though it were in itself evidence justifying a sentence of death, the resulting death sentence may not be free from the influence of any arbitrary factor as required by S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-25(C)(1), and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. State v. Woomer, supra; Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625, 100 S.Ct. 2382, 65 L.Ed.2d 392 (1980).

Appellant also contends that the closing argument of the solicitor at the guilt phase of the trial was so prejudicial that it denied him a fair trial. I know that you all's responsibility here in this case is great. Not only yours but mine has been also. But rest assured of one fact that you would not be...

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18 cases
  • State v. Torrence
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • May 1, 1989
    ...entitled to a charge prohibiting the jury from considering parole eligibility in making its sentencing determination. State v. Butler, 277 S.C. 543, 290 S.E.2d 420 (1982); State v. Copeland, 278 S.C. 572, 300 S.E.2d 63 (1982); State v. South, 285 S.C. 529, 331 S.E.2d 775 (1985). In Copeland......
  • State v. Copeland
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • November 10, 1982
    ...the course of proportionality review. State v. Truesdale, supra; State v. Patterson, S.C., 295 S.E.2d 264 (1982); State v. James Anthony Butler, S.C., 290 S.E.2d 420 (1982); State v. Woomer, S.C., 284 S.E.2d 357 (1981); State v. Plath, supra; State v. Adams, supra; State v. Linder, supra; S......
  • United States v. Aquart
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • December 20, 2018
    ...evidence—are distinguishable from the jury confusion/erroneous instruction error raised in Jones . In support, he cites State v. Butler , 277 S.C. 543, 546, 290 S.E.2d 420, 421 (1982) (characterizing prosecutorial vouching as "arbitrary factor" under parallel provision of state death penalt......
  • Wood v. Stirling
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • October 1, 2018
    ...decision, so I have had to go through the same identical thing that you all do. It is not easy.Id. at 359. Similarly, in State v. Butler, 290 S.E.2d 420 (S.C. 1982),20 the South Carolina Supreme Court found an Eighth Amendment violation where the solicitor told the jury in his penalty phase......
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