State v. Deck

Decision Date25 May 2004
Docket NumberNo. SC 85443.,SC 85443.
Citation136 S.W.3d 481
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Carman DECK, Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Rosemary E. Percival, Office of the Public Defender, Kansas City, MO, for appellant.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., Evan J. Buchheim, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, MO, for Respondent.

RONNIE L. WHITE, Chief Justice.

I.

A jury convicted Appellant, Carman Deck, of two counts of first-degree murder and recommended a sentence of death for each count.1 Judgment was entered consistent with the recommendation. Appellant moved for postconviction relief after his convictions and sentences were affirmed on direct appeal.2 This Court remanded for a new penalty phase, finding that trial counsel's failure to offer proper mitigation instructions during that phase of the trial constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.3 On retrial, the jury recommended two death sentences, and judgment was entered consistent with that recommendation. Appellant now asserts nine points of error with his resentencing. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 3. Affirmed.

II.

In his first point, Appellant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the admission of a double hearsay statement made to Deputy Sheriff Donna Thomas. Tonia Cummings made the original statement to Charles Hill, who in turn relayed it to Deputy Thomas. The statement was a warning that a robbery and possible murder were going to occur in rural DeSoto, Missouri, involving an elderly gentleman.

"A hearsay statement is any out-of-court statement that is used to prove the truth of the matter asserted and that depends on the veracity of the statement for its value."4 Charles Hill's statement was offered to explain why the police began a search for the Appellant and a house-to-house search that ultimately led to discovery of the crime scene. Statements made by out-of-court declarants that explain subsequent police conduct are admissible to supply relevant background information and continuity.5 The trial court did not abuse its discretion when allowing the admission of this out-of-court statement.

III.

Next Appellant asserts that the trial court abused its discretion by overruling his motion to appear at trial free of restraints. Appellant believes having to appear before the jury wearing leg irons and handcuffed to a belly chain violated his rights to due process, equal protection, confrontation of the evidence, a fair and reliable sentencing and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

The trial court has discretion to impose security measures necessary to maintain order and security in the courtroom, including the use of restraints.6 "A trial court abuses its discretion when its ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances then before the court and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration."7 "If reasonable persons can differ as to the propriety of the trial court's action, then it cannot be said that the trial court abused its discretion."8 Recognizing this discretion, however, this Court does not minimize in any way its concern for maintaining a jury that is not prejudiced by extra-judicial influences and passions. Challenging the trial court's discretion to impose security by use of restraints is an individual and fact-specific inquiry.

Trial counsel made no record of the extent of the jury's awareness of the restraints throughout the penalty phase, and Appellant does not claim that the restraints impeded him from participating in the proceedings. There is also evidence that there was a risk that Appellant might flee in that he was a repeat offender and evidence from the guilt phase of his trial indicated that he killed his two victims to avoid being returned to custody. While this does not represent a comprehensive list of factors this Court would analyze in making determinations on this issue, there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the trial court's exercise of its discretion to deny Appellant's motion.

Even assuming, arguendo, that the trial court did abuse its discretion in this instance, Appellant has not demonstrated that the outcome of his trial was prejudiced. Appellant offers nothing more than speculation in support of his argument. Neither being viewed in shackles by the venire panel prior to trial, nor being viewed while restrained throughout the entire trial, alone, is proof of prejudice.9 Moreover, the venire panel was questioned in voir dire, and all members responded that Appellant's appearance in shackles would not affect their decision.

IV.

In Appellant's third point, he argues that the trial court plainly erred when submitting penalty phase instructions numbers 7, 8, 12, and 13. He contends that these instructions did not inform the jury that the State bore the burden of proving aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and that mitigating circumstances were insufficient to outweigh the evidence of aggravating circumstances. Appellant believes the wording of the instructions could have allowed the jury to infer that the burden of proof was lower than beyond a reasonable doubt. Having not raised this issue at trial, review is under the plain error standard.10

These instructions are derived from section 565.030.4 and were appropriately patterned after MAI-CR 3d 313.41, and 313.44.11 This Court recently addressed this claim and found no error with these patterned instructions.12 The MAI instructions are constitutional, and there was no plain error in law with their delivery to the jury.13 Having examined this claim thoroughly and finding no error of law, an extended opinion on these issues would have no precedential value.14

V.

Appellant's fourth point raises the issue of whether the trial court erred by failing to read to the jury MAI-CR 3d 300.04.2—the short version of the jury recess instruction.15 Appellant claims that the jury's verdict was affected because the court failed to provide the short version of the instruction when: (1) the court divided the jury panel into small groups for death qualification, (2) the small groups returned to the larger group, (3) the proceedings ended on the first and second days of trial, and (4) the parties rested their cases. Defense counsel failed to timely object to this alleged error, so this Court reviews for plain error.16

To establish that the instructional error rose to the level of plain error, appellant must demonstrate that the trial court so misdirected or failed to instruct the jury that it is evident the instructional error affected the jury's verdict.17 The jury recess instruction directs the jury not to discuss the case with anyone, including the other jury members, or express or form an opinion of the case until it is submitted for the jury's decision.18

The Notes on Use for MAI-CR 3d 300.04 state that the long version, 300.04.1, entitled, "At the First Recess and Adjournment," shall be read at the conclusion of voir dire and if recess occurs during voir dire than it shall also be read at that time. The short version of this MAI, 300.04.2, is entitled, "At Subsequent Recesses or Adjournments," and the Notes of Use state that it may be given in any other form so long as it complies with section 546.230.

The record reveals that, while Appellant's claimed omissions did occur, the panel was given the full instruction prior to the noon recess during voir dire, again prior to individual voir dire in the afternoon and again when voir dire was completed. During the death qualification phase, the jurors were not in recess while the smaller groups were interviewed to trigger the need to read the instruction. The instruction was again delivered prior to a recess for dinner, and after dinner the jury was assembled and instructed to return home and pack to prepare for hotel sequestration. On the second day of trial, the instruction was given at every recess, but not at the day's adjournment. On the third day of trial, the instruction was given at every recess except for the one occurring after both parties had rested and before the instruction conference began.

The jury heard the instruction multiple times throughout the course of Appellant's trial, and Appellant offers no evidence that any juror violated the instruction by engaging in discussion about the case or by forming an opinion prior to the completion of the case. The trial court did not so misdirect or fail to instruct the jury that it is evident the instructional error affected the jury's verdict. Appellant's claim fails to establish plain error for the limited omissions in repeating the recess instruction.

VI.

Appellant next argues the trial court abused its discretion with the admission of victim-impact evidence. Specifically, he asserts that an extensive family tree from the victim's family, a narrative statement by the victim's son, and an alleged hearsay statement that the victim's granddaughter was worried and afraid to come to court were excessive and prejudicial.

"[T]he trial court is vested with broad discretion in determining the admissibility of evidence offered at the penalty stage of a capital case."19 Victim impact evidence is admissible under the United States and Missouri Constitutions, and the State is permitted to show that a victim is not a faceless stranger and that his or her death represents a unique loss to society and to the family.20 "[V]ictim impact evidence violates the constitution only if it is so unduly prejudicial that it renders the trial fundamentally unfair."21

The chart depicting the victim's family tree, with 46 named family members, was found by the trial court to be less prejudicial than having each of these individuals testify. The chart did contain the names of several family members who had not yet been born at the time of the murders and spouses that were no...

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