State v. George

Citation476 S.E.2d 903,323 S.C. 496
Decision Date06 February 1996
Docket NumberNo. 24491,24491
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Ricky GEORGE, Appellant. . Heard

Senior Assistant Appellate Defender Wanda H. Haile, of S.C. Office of Appellate Defense, of Columbia; and William Issac Diggs, of Myrtle Beach, for Appellant.

Attorney General Charles Molony Condon, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, both of Columbia; and Solicitor Ralph J. Wilson, of Conway, for Respondent.

BURNETT, Justice:

The victim in this case, James S. Stanley, owned and operated a convenience store in Horry County. On the evening of August 8, 1992, Stanley was murdered while working at his store. Appellant along with Samuel Christian and David Wayne Graham were charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and armed robbery. Appellant was convicted as charged and sentenced to death. 1 We affirm in part and remand in part.

A. Statutory Excusals

Prior to jury selection, three women with young children, Ms. Brown, Ms. Huggins, and Ms. Smith, were excused from jury service pursuant to the "childcare" exemption as provided in S.C.Code Ann. § 14-7- 860 (Supp.1995). 2 Brown requested excusal stating that her husband worked at night and that she was the primary caretaker for three children (one was three years of age). Huggins requested excusal because she had the sole duty to care for her five-year-old child. Smith requested excusal because she was the caretaker for her two-year-old daughter. Appellant contends that these statutory excusals violated his right to a venire pool that reflected a fair cross-section of the community. We disagree.

In Duren v. Missouri, 3 the United States Supreme Court determined that a Missouri statute providing an automatic exemption from jury service for any woman requesting not to serve violated the Sixth Amendment fair cross-section requirement . Nevertheless, the Court also recognized that "a State may have an important interest in assuring that those members of the family responsible for the care of children are available to do so. An exemption appropriately tailored to this interest would, we think, survive a fair-cross-section challenge." 439 U.S. at 370, 99 S.Ct. at 671, 58 L.Ed.2d at 590.

Section 14-7-860 provides the presiding judge with the authority to excuse women with "childcare" responsibilities when (1) the woman desires to be excused from jury duty; (2) she has a child under the age of seven; (3) she has legal custody of the child and the duty to care for the child; and (4) she presents the court with facts warranting her excusal. Because § 14-7-860 is carefully tailored to the important interest of caring for children and does not automatically exclude any woman requesting not to serve, it survives a cross-section challenge. Moreover, in this matter, the facts established that the excused women qualified for the "childcare" exemption.

Next, Appellant argues that the judge erred in excusing Ms. Alston for "good cause" under § 14-7-860. Alston requested excusal stating that she cared for her mother of seventy years who had cancer, who required frequent medicating, and whose mind was bad. Because Appellant failed to object to her excusal, this argument is not preserved for appellate review. State v. Torrence, 305 S.C. 45, 406 S.E.2d 315 (1991) (a contemporaneous objection on proper grounds is required to preserve an error for appellate review); State v. Williams, 303 S.C. 410, 401 S.E.2d 168 (1991) (issues not raised to and ruled on by the trial court are not preserved for appeal).

Mr. J. Martin, a nineteen-year-old high school student, requested postponement of jury service to a date that did not conflict with school pursuant to S.C.Code Ann. § 14-7-845 (Supp.1995). Appellant contends that the granting of this request for excusal was improper. We have previously held that the trial judge has the discretion to exclude prospective jurors for educational conflicts. State v. South, 285 S.C. 529, 331 S.E.2d 775, cert. denied, 474 U.S. 888, 106 S.Ct. 209, 88 L.Ed.2d 178 (1985). We therefore find no error in Martin's excusal.

B. Excusals for Death Penalty Views

Appellant asserts that neither Ms. Whitaker nor Ms. G. Martin were emphatically opposed to recommending a sentence of death, and it was error for the trial court to disqualify them. We disagree.

A venireperson must be excused only if her opinions would prevent or substantially impair the performance of her duties as a juror in accordance with her oath and instructions. Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 105 S.Ct. 844, 83 L.Ed.2d 841 (1985); State v. Green, 301 S.C. 347, 392 S.E.2d 157, cert. denied, 498 U.S. 881, 111 S.Ct. 229, 112 L.Ed.2d 183 (1990). The determination of whether a juror is qualified to serve on a death penalty case is within the sole discretion of the trial judge and is not reviewable on appeal unless wholly unsupported by the evidence. State v. Davis, 309 S.C. 326, 422 S.E.2d 133 (1992), cert. denied, 508 U.S. 915, 113 S.Ct. 2355, 124 L.Ed.2d 263 (1993). When reviewing the trial court's qualification or disqualification of prospective jurors, the responses of the challenged jurors must be examined in light of the entire voir dire. State v. Green, supra.

Although Whitaker stated that she would have no problem determining that someone was guilty of murder, she repeatedly asserted that she did not think she could ever vote for or sign her name to a verdict sentencing someone to death. She also asserted that she could follow the law if it did not require imposition of the death penalty. As to Martin's qualification, several times during voir dire she declared that she did not think she could sign a form recommending the death penalty.

Our review of the record confirms that it would have been extremely difficult for Whitaker or Martin to impose a capital sentence. Accordingly, because the evidence supports their excusal, we find no error in so doing.

In addition, Appellant argued to the trial court, as he does on appeal, that the Solicitor unconstitutionally struck Ms. Adamson, a black female, based upon his personal opinion that she could not impose a capital sentence. Appellant maintains that the Solicitor did not present a race-neutral explanation for the use of his peremptory strike and, therefore, the burden of proof under Batson v. Kentucky 4 was not satisfied. We disagree.

A solicitor may exercise his peremptory challenges for any non-racially discriminatory reason. Batson, supra. We have previously held where, as here, a solicitor perceives that a person will have a problem imposing the death penalty, he may exercise a peremptory challenge against the juror. State v. Green, supra.

At first blush, Adamson's responses qualified her under Wainwright v. Witt, supra. Nevertheless, the Solicitor was a friend of Adamson, and based upon his personal knowledge of her beliefs and background, he concluded that she would be unable to fairly consider the death penalty. During a Batson hearing the Solicitor explained, "This has absolutely nothing to do with the race of this juror. I think the world of this juror. She is one of my friends. But she will not give the death penalty. I have no doubt in my mind about that." The trial judge determined that the Solicitor was entitled to strike Adamson for the reasons stated.

After careful review of the Solicitor's explanation for striking Adamson, we conclude that it was race-neutral and constitutional.

C. Qualification of Juror Watkins

Appellant contends the trial judge erred in qualifying Mr. Watkins after he stated that he could not sign his name to a life sentence form. We disagree.

Initially, Watkins stated that if an aggravating circumstance was found, he could not sign his name to a life sentence verdict. However, when the judge further inquired as to his ability to serve, he answered as follows:

Q: Now, I need to know this: Are you willing to listen to those instructions and to consider evidence which would warrant a life imprisonment, not necessarily do it, but are you willing to consider it, or are you telling me that once somebody is convicted of murder, you would always vote for the imposition of death? I need to know that.

A: No, I wouldn't because of that. I think I could listen to all the reasons and everything before I put down the punishment.

Q: You're telling me that you could put the punishment down for death, but equally, if you felt it warranted, even though convicted of murder, you could give him life imprisonment?

A: Yes. Yes, I do.

In addition, later during voir dire Watkins confirmed that he could give a life sentence even if an aggravating circumstance was unanimously found.

Although Watkins' responses are somewhat inconsistent, we conclude that he had the ability to perform the duties required of a juror and render a verdict of life or death in accordance with his oath and instructions. Wainwright v. Witt, supra; State v. Green, supra.

D. Qualification of Juror Walker

Appellant maintains that Ms. Walker, who was married to an Horry County police officer, should have been disqualified for cause. We disagree.

According to S.C.Code Ann. § 14-7-820 (Supp.1995), county officers are ineligible to be jurors. However, Walker was not a county employee, and her marriage to a police officer did not automatically disqualify her. State v. Dingle, 279 S.C. 278, 306 S.E.2d 223 (1983) (a juror is not automatically disqualified because of her relationship by blood or marriage to a police officer). Moreover, because Walker did not live in South Carolina nor was her husband employed as a police officer in Horry County at the time this crime was committed, she had no prior information concerning this matter. Accordingly, we find no error in her qualification.

E. Qualification of Juror Crislip

Mr. Crislip indicated that before he could impose the death penalty, the homicide...

To continue reading

Request your trial
113 cases
  • Moore v. Stirling
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • April 6, 2022
    ...State v. Simpson, 325 S.C. 37, 479 S.E.2d 57, cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1277, 117 S.Ct. 2460, 138 L.Ed.2d 217 (1997) ; State v. George, 323 S.C. 496, 476 S.E.2d 903 (1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1123, 117 S.Ct. 1261, 137 L.Ed.2d 340 (1997) ; State v. Sims, 304 S.C. 409, 405 S.E.2d 377 (1991),......
  • State v. Warren
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • April 13, 1998
    ......Because Warren did not object to the curative instruction or move for a mistrial, the error is deemed cured and no later curative charge is necessary. See State v. George, 323 S.C. 496, 510, 476 S.E.2d 903, 911-12 (1996) ("If the trial judge sustains a timely objection to testimony and gives the jury a curative instruction to disregard the testimony, the error is deemed to be cured. No issue is preserved for appellate review if the objecting party accepts the ......
  • State v. Shafer
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • May 8, 2000
    ......South Carolina, 476 U.S. 1, 4, 106 S.Ct. 1669, 90 L.Ed.2d 1, citing Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 110, 102 S.Ct. 869, 71 L.Ed.2d 1 (1982) ; see State v. George, 323 S.C. 496, 476 S.E.2d 903 (1996) (mitigating circumstances are details specific to the character of the defendant on trial and/or the circumstances of the crime he committed which are considered in order to reduce the degree of his moral culpability or guilt). In Skipper, the Supreme Court ......
  • State v. Martucci
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 24, 2008 was questionable whether jury drew connection between fingerprint card and defendant's prior criminal activity); State v. George, 323 S.C. 496, 476 S.E.2d 903 (1996) (recognizing appellant's possible drug dealing was merely suggested and no testimony was presented concerning such behavio......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT