State v. Downs, No. 25884.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Citation604 S.E.2d 377,361 S.C. 141
Decision Date25 October 2004
Docket NumberNo. 25884.
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. William E. DOWNS, Jr., Appellant.

361 S.C. 141
604 S.E.2d 377

The STATE, Respondent,
v.
William E. DOWNS, Jr., Appellant

No. 25884.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard September 21, 2004.

Filed October 25, 2004.

Rehearing Denied December 14, 2004.


361 S.C. 143
Assistant Appellate Defender Robert M. Dudek, and Jeffrey P. Bloom, both of Columbia, for Appellant

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Barbara R. Morgan, of Aiken, for Respondent.

Justice PLEICONES:

This is a death penalty case. Appellant pleaded guilty to murder, kidnapping, and first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor. With respect to the murder, the circuit court found the following aggravating circumstances: Appellant committed the murder while in the commission of criminal sexual conduct; Appellant committed the murder while in the commission of a kidnapping; and Appellant murdered a child eleven years old or younger. The circuit court sentenced Appellant to death.1 This opinion consolidates Appellant's direct appeal and the sentence review required by S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-25 (2003). We affirm.

FACTS

The victim, a six-year-old boy, was taken into a wooded area of a park, raped, and strangled to death. After newspapers reported the murder, Appellant told his sister that he had committed the crime. Appellant's sister reported this to the police and disclosed Appellant's location. The police found and detained Appellant, and he confessed.

Appellant was charged with murder, kidnapping, and first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor. At the plea hearing, Appellant expressed the desire to plead guilty but

361 S.C. 144
was uncertain whether he wanted to later present evidence that he was mentally ill at the time of the crime (guilty but mentally ill or GBMI).2 Appellant never suggested that he wanted to plead guilty only if found mentally ill. Rather, Appellant repeatedly stated that he knew he wanted to admit guilt. Moreover, Appellant claimed to understand that if he were to present evidence of mental illness and the court were to find him GBMI, death would remain a possible sentence.3

The court proceeded with the hearing on the guilty plea while permitting Appellant to defer the decision whether to claim mental illness. Upon the court's inquiry Appellant claimed to understand that by pleading guilty he waived his right to a jury trial on both guilt and sentencing. When the judge asked if Appellant wanted to impanel a jury, admit guilt, and ask the jury to decide the sentence, Appellant answered in the negative. The court accepted Appellant's guilty plea as voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently entered.

At a later hearing, Appellant did present evidence that he was mentally ill when the crime occurred. An expert testified that Appellant's mental condition rendered him unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law, that is, he was mentally ill. Two other experts testified that Appellant was not mentally ill, that he could so conform his conduct. After considering the evidence, the court ruled that Appellant failed to prove he was GBMI.4

At sentencing the court found the three aggravating circumstances stated above. In addition, even though Appellant's attorneys represented that Appellant had instructed them to

361 S.C. 145
neither "offer any mitigation to the court" nor "argue to the court for a sentence of life without parole," the court found four mitigating circumstances.5 After considering both sets of circumstances, the court sentenced Appellant to death

ISSUES

I. Whether Appellant's guilty plea was an invalid conditional plea.
II. Whether Appellant had a right to a jury trial on sentencing of which he was deprived.
III. Whether the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to sentence Appellant to death because the indictment did not allege aggravating circumstances.

ANALYSIS

I. The Plea

Appellant claims his guilty plea was a conditional plea and therefore invalid. We disagree.

In South Carolina, guilty pleas must be unconditional. State v. Peppers, 346 S.C. 502, 504, 552 S.E.2d 288, 289 (2001); State v. O'Leary, 302 S.C. 17, 18, 393 S.E.2d 186, 187 (1990); State v. Truesdale, 278 S.C. 368, 370, 296 S.E.2d 528, 529 (1982). If "an accused attempts to attach any condition or qualification" to a guilty plea, then "the trial court should direct a plea of not guilty." Truesdale, 278 S.C. at 370, 296 S.E.2d at 529. If the trial court accepts a conditional guilty plea, then the plea will be vacated on appeal. Peppers, 346 S.C. at 505, 552 S.E.2d at 290.

Appellant asserts his plea was conditional because he pleaded guilty while deferring the decision whether to present evidence of mental illness. Appellant argues the potential of

361 S.C. 146
being found mentally ill constituted a condition attached to his plea. We disagree

Appellant never attempted to reserve the right to later deny his guilt. He reserved the right only to present evidence that he committed the crime while mentally ill. Guilty but mentally ill is still guilty. See S.C.Code Ann. § 17-24-70 (2003) (requiring that a GBMI defendant be sentenced as guilty); see also State v. Hornsby, 326 S.C. 121, 126, 484 S.E.2d 869, 872 (1997) (noting that a finding of GBMI "does not absolve a defendant of guilt"). The difference between guilty and GBMI pertains only to post-sentencing medical treatment. See S.C.Code Ann. § 17-24-70 (2003). Appellant's guilty plea was unconditional.

II. The Sentencing Procedure

Appellant asserts Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002), renders unconstitutional the requirement in S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-20(B) (2003) that the sentencing proceeding be held before the judge when a defendant pleads guilty to...

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35 practice notes
  • State v. Nunley, No. SC 76981.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • July 19, 2011
    ...his right to “have a jury recommend to the trial court whether or not a death penalty should be imposed ...”); South Carolina v. Downs, 361 S.C. 141, 604 S.E.2d 377, 380 (2004) (“ Ring did not involve jury-trial waivers and is not implicated when a defendant pleads guilty.”); State v. Piper......
  • State v. Inman, No. 27081.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 25, 2012
    ...the judge had a duty to reject the plea as it was conditional. “In South Carolina, guilty pleas must be unconditional.” State v. Downs, 361 S.C. 141, 145, 604 S.E.2d 377, 379 (2004). “[I]f an accused attempts to attach any condition or qualification thereto, the trial court should direct a ......
  • Glenn v. Commonwealth, Record No. 2390-04-2.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • August 15, 2006
    ...v. Bartley, 8 Pa. D&C 4th 605, 609 (Pa. Comm. Pleas Ct. 1991); State v. Soares, 633 A.2d 1356, 1356 (R.I. 1993); State v. Downs, 604 S.E.2d 377 (S.C. 2004); see also Lineberry v. State, 747 N.E.2d 1151 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001) (vacating a guilty plea entered after the prosecutor and the trial c......
  • State v. Carlson, No. 3948.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • February 22, 2005
    ...rule, "and if not raised to the trial court are deemed waived on appeal." Id. at 339, 526 S.E.2d at 250. See also State v. Downs, 361 S.C. 141, 604 S.E.2d 377 (2004) (acknowledging a defendant may waive the right to a trial by jury on both guilt and sentencing); State v. Owens, 346 S.C. 637......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
33 cases
  • State v. Nunley, No. SC 76981.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • July 19, 2011
    ...his right to “have a jury recommend to the trial court whether or not a death penalty should be imposed ...”); South Carolina v. Downs, 361 S.C. 141, 604 S.E.2d 377, 380 (2004) (“ Ring did not involve jury-trial waivers and is not implicated when a defendant pleads guilty.”); State v. Piper......
  • State v. Inman, No. 27081.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 25, 2012
    ...the judge had a duty to reject the plea as it was conditional. “In South Carolina, guilty pleas must be unconditional.” State v. Downs, 361 S.C. 141, 145, 604 S.E.2d 377, 379 (2004). “[I]f an accused attempts to attach any condition or qualification thereto, the trial court should direct a ......
  • Glenn v. Commonwealth, Record No. 2390-04-2.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • August 15, 2006
    ...v. Bartley, 8 Pa. D&C 4th 605, 609 (Pa. Comm. Pleas Ct. 1991); State v. Soares, 633 A.2d 1356, 1356 (R.I. 1993); State v. Downs, 604 S.E.2d 377 (S.C. 2004); see also Lineberry v. State, 747 N.E.2d 1151 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001) (vacating a guilty plea entered after the prosecutor and the trial c......
  • State v. Carlson, No. 3948.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • February 22, 2005
    ...rule, "and if not raised to the trial court are deemed waived on appeal." Id. at 339, 526 S.E.2d at 250. See also State v. Downs, 361 S.C. 141, 604 S.E.2d 377 (2004) (acknowledging a defendant may waive the right to a trial by jury on both guilt and sentencing); State v. Owens, 346 S.C. 637......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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