State v. Crisp, No. 25928.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Citation362 S.C. 412,608 S.E.2d 429
Docket NumberNo. 25928.
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Denisona J. CRISP, Appellant.
Decision Date24 January 2005

362 S.C. 412
608 S.E.2d 429

The STATE, Respondent,
v.
Denisona J. CRISP, Appellant

No. 25928.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard November 30, 2004.

Decided January 24, 2005.


362 S.C. 413
Jeffrey P. Bloom, of Columbia, for Appellant

Attorney General Henry D. McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, and Senior Assistant Attorney General William Edgar Salter, III, all of Columbia, and Solicitor Druanne D. White, of Anderson, for Respondent.

Justice BURNETT.

Denisona J. Crisp (Appellant) pled guilty in a capital murder case and was sentenced to death. We reverse.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Appellant, then age 20, pled guilty in April 2001 to murder, assault and battery with intent to kill (ABWIK), and two counts of possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of a violent crime. The murder victim was Jealoni Blackwell; the assault victim was Thomas Gambrell. Appellant was sentenced by Judge James W. Johnson, Jr., to life in prison for murder, twenty years consecutive for ABWIK, and five years concurrent on each weapon charge.

Following the plea hearing, the State officially served notice of the intent to seek the death penalty in connection with the

362 S.C. 414
murder of Clarence Watson. The State asserted the prior conviction of murder and physical torture as statutory grounds for the death penalty. See S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-20(C)(a)(1)(h) and (C)(a)(2) (2003)

Appellant pled guilty in June 2001 to murdering Watson and possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of a violent crime. Following a three-day, non-jury sentencing hearing before Judge John W. Kittredge in October 2001, Appellant was sentenced to death.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In criminal cases, we sit to review errors of law only and we are bound by factual findings of the trial court unless an abuse of discretion is shown. State v. Wilson, 345 S.C. 1, 5, 545 S.E.2d 827, 829 (2001); State v. Cutter, 261 S.C. 140, 147, 199 S.E.2d 61, 65 (1973). An abuse of discretion occurs when the conclusions of the trial court either lack evidentiary support or are controlled by an error of law. State v. McDonald, 343 S.C. 319, 325, 540 S.E.2d 464, 467 (2000); State v. Manning, 329 S.C. 1, 7, 495 S.E.2d 191, 194 (1997).

ISSUES

I. Did the trial judge err during the plea colloquy by informing Appellant his best hope for a life sentence at a jury trial might ultimately depend on lying jurors "who will testify under oath that they are for the death penalty when they're not, simply because they can serve on a jury to let someone go"?
II. In light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Ring v. Arizona, is the statutory provision allowing a judge, sitting alone, to sentence to death a defendant who pleads guilty a violation of a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial?
III. Did the trial judge lack subject matter jurisdiction to sentence Appellant to death because the murder indictment did not identify any statutory circumstances of aggravation necessary to expose Appellant to a punishment greater than life in prison?

362 S.C. 415
I. JUDGE'S COMMENTS REGARDING DECEPTIVE JURORS

The following exchange occurred as the trial judge questioned Appellant about the waiver of his right to a jury trial during the June 2001 hearing in which Appellant pled guilty to Watson's murder:

THE COURT: Let me tell you something else for you to be aware of as a practical matter in waiving your right to a jury trial. There are jurors who will be brought in who will testify under oath that they are for the death penalty when they're not simply because they can serve on a jury to let someone go. Do you understand that?
[APPELLANT]: I don't understand that, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Do you understand what I'm telling you?
[APPELLANT]: I understand what you're saying.
THE COURT: I'm telling you it's a fact of life. I've had it happen. Jurors will come in and lie and tell me that they're open-minded and would, if the circumstances warrant, vote to impose the death penalty and not be willing to do so simply as an area to express their agenda of being against the death penalty. Do you understand that?
[APPELLANT]: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: And you could get such a juror. And we may not be able to detect on the front end who's telling the truth and who's not. And it only takes one juror for you to receive life in prison. Now, having explained that to you and the reality of that situation and that potential, do you still want to plead guilty in front of me?
[APPELLANT]: Yes, sir.

Appellant contends the judge, through his extraneous comments, injected his personal opinion about the potential exercise of a constitutional right into the proceeding. Such comments exceed the scope of the judge's authority, regardless of whether his opinion is based on his experience and best judgment. Appellant argues the "ultimate decision to waive a jury trial was [made] subject to the judge's assertion that his best hope at trial might come down to lying jurors who would deliberately subvert his trial for their own purposes."

362 S.C. 416
Appellant argues the comments prevented him from making a knowing and voluntary waiver of his right to a jury trial, and the comments constitute prejudicial error. Appellant relies on State v. Gunter, 286 S.C. 556, 335 S.E.2d 542 (1985); State v. Pierce, 289 S.C. 430, 346 S.E.2d 707 (1986), overruled on other grounds by State v. Torrence, 305 S.C. 45, 406 S.E.2d 315 (1991); State v. Cooper, 291 S.C. 332, 353 S.E.2d 441 (1986), overruled on other grounds by State v....

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18 practice notes
  • State v. Inman, No. 27081.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 25, 2012
    ...by law and that a defendant is not precluded from offering evidence of his remorse and acceptance of responsibility); State v. Crisp, 362 S.C. 412, 608 S.E.2d 429 (2005) (adhering to Downs and rejecting claims that section 16–3–20(B) was unconstitutional); State v. Wood, 362 S.C. 135, 607 S......
  • People v. Montour, No. 02SA365.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • April 23, 2007
    ...v. Altom, 338 Ill.App.3d 355, 272 Ill.Dec. 751, 788 N.E.2d 55 (2003); Colwell v. State, 118 Nev. 807, 59 P.3d 463 (2002); State v. Crisp, 362 S.C. 412, 608 S.E.2d 429 (2005); and State v. Downs, 361 S.C. 141, 604 S.E.2d 377 (2004). We are not persuaded as the majority of these cases are dis......
  • Mahdi v. Stirling, C/A No. 8:16-3911-TMC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • September 24, 2018
    ...the death penalty statute constitutional and noting Ring was not implicated when a capital defendant pled guilty. See State v. Crisp, 608 S.E.2d 429, 432-33 (S.C. 2005); State v. Downs, 604 S.E.2d 377, 380 (S.C. 2004); State v. Wood, 607 S.E.2d 57, 61 (S.C. 2004). 41. In addition, the court......
  • Mahdi v. Stirling, 19-3
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • December 20, 2021
    ...the death penalty statute constitutional because Ring is not implicated when a capital defendant pleads guilty. See State v. Crisp , 362 S.C. 412, 608 S.E.2d 429, 432–33 (2005) ; State v. Wood , 362 S.C. 135, 607 S.E.2d 57, 61 (2004) Downs , 604 S.E.2d at 380. Indeed, we reached the same co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • State v. Inman, No. 27081.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 25, 2012
    ...by law and that a defendant is not precluded from offering evidence of his remorse and acceptance of responsibility); State v. Crisp, 362 S.C. 412, 608 S.E.2d 429 (2005) (adhering to Downs and rejecting claims that section 16–3–20(B) was unconstitutional); State v. Wood, 362 S.C. 135, 607 S......
  • People v. Montour, No. 02SA365.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • April 23, 2007
    ...v. Altom, 338 Ill.App.3d 355, 272 Ill.Dec. 751, 788 N.E.2d 55 (2003); Colwell v. State, 118 Nev. 807, 59 P.3d 463 (2002); State v. Crisp, 362 S.C. 412, 608 S.E.2d 429 (2005); and State v. Downs, 361 S.C. 141, 604 S.E.2d 377 (2004). We are not persuaded as the majority of these cases are dis......
  • Mahdi v. Stirling, C/A No. 8:16-3911-TMC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • September 24, 2018
    ...the death penalty statute constitutional and noting Ring was not implicated when a capital defendant pled guilty. See State v. Crisp, 608 S.E.2d 429, 432-33 (S.C. 2005); State v. Downs, 604 S.E.2d 377, 380 (S.C. 2004); State v. Wood, 607 S.E.2d 57, 61 (S.C. 2004). 41. In addition, the court......
  • Mahdi v. Stirling, 19-3
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • December 20, 2021
    ...the death penalty statute constitutional because Ring is not implicated when a capital defendant pleads guilty. See State v. Crisp , 362 S.C. 412, 608 S.E.2d 429, 432–33 (2005) ; State v. Wood , 362 S.C. 135, 607 S.E.2d 57, 61 (2004) Downs , 604 S.E.2d at 380. Indeed, we reached the same co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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