State v. Huggins, No. 24558

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtWALLER; FINNEY, C.J., MOORE and BURNETT, JJ., and GEORGE T. GREGORY, Jr.
Citation325 S.C. 103,481 S.E.2d 114
PartiesSTATE of South Carolina, Respondent, v. Fay W. HUGGINS, Appellant. . Heard
Decision Date15 October 1996
Docket NumberNo. 24558

Page 114

481 S.E.2d 114
325 S.C. 103
STATE of South Carolina, Respondent,
v.
Fay W. HUGGINS, Appellant.
No. 24558.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard Oct. 15, 1996.
Decided Jan. 20, 1997.
Rehearing Denied Feb. 25, 1997.

Page 115

[325 S.C. 105] Jack B. Swerling, Columbia, and Paul V. Cannarella, Hartsville, for appellant.

Charles Molony Condon, Attorney General, John W. McIntosh, Deputy Attorney General, Salley W. Elliott, Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Section, Norman Mark Rapoport, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Columbia, and C. Gordon McBride, Solicitor, Fourth Judicial Circuit, Darlington, for respondent.

WALLER, Justice:

On appeal are Appellant's convictions of voluntary manslaughter and criminal conspiracy. We reverse.

FACTS

The victim in this case was Appellant's husband of fifteen years, Dennis Huggins ("Victim"). On May 31, 1992, Appellant and Victim drove to Artemus Nichols's home. Victim wanted to confront Nichols about his having an affair with Appellant. Appellant and Nichols admitted the affair but claimed it was over before the night of the killing; Victim believed it was still going on. Nichols shot Victim at close range while Victim was seated in his truck on the passenger side. Victim was found with a gun in his hand.

[325 S.C. 106] Appellant and Nichols were indicted for murder and criminal conspiracy. During their joint trial they claimed the shooting occurred in self-defense when Victim pulled a gun on Nichols after Nichols ordered Victim and Appellant to leave. The state's theory was that the two planned Victim's death. Both Appellant and Nichols were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and criminal conspiracy. 1

ISSUES

I. Did the trial judge err in refusing to grant a mistrial based on the State's closing argument?

II. Did the trial judge err in charging the jury?

III. Did the trial judge err in admitting and excluding various evidence?

IV. Did the trial judge err in refusing Appellant's motion for a directed verdict?

Page 116

DISCUSSION

I. Closing Argument

Appellant argues she was denied a fair trial because of remarks made during the state's closing argument. We agree.

On direct examination Appellant testified she told her brother sometime prior to Victim's death that she wished Victim was dead. She testified she told her brother this because she was upset with Victim after they had a violent fight. On cross-examination, the State questioned Appellant about a statement her brother made to police in which apparently he stated that Appellant told him she knew of a way to kill Victim. According to the State, Appellant's brother stated Appellant told him someone could enter Victim's cabin when he was sleeping and turn on the gas, and that she offered $4,000 for someone to do it. Appellant denied having said this and asked to see the statement, which the State did not give [325 S.C. 107] her. This statement was never entered into evidence, nor did Appellant's brother ever testify.

During the state's closing argument, the solicitor referred again to this alleged statement:

But you know what she wants to do? She wants to hire a contract killer. Now, folks, let me say that to you again. Can you imagine that? I mean, some of us have always said, "I'm going to kill him one day." I say that about my boy every doggone day, I think. "I'm going to kill that boy if he don't get out of the bathroom." That's not what was being said. What was being said--what was being said was, I've got four thousand dollars. She identified the amount.

. . . . .

Four thousand dollars. And this is how you can do it. You can go in there when he's drunk into the cabin and turn the gas on. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a woman saying that, thinking that? And you know who she says it to? Her, her blood brother, Buddy Weatherford.

A solicitor may not rely on statements not in evidence during closing argument. State v. Gaines, 271 S.C. 65, 244 S.E.2d 539 (1978); State v. Bottoms, 260 S.C. 187, 195 S.E.2d 116 (1973). Arguments must be confined to evidence in the record (and reasonable inferences therefrom), although failure to do so will not automatically result in reversal. State v. Copeland, 321 S.C. 318, 468 S.E.2d 620 (1996); State v. Cannon, 229 S.C. 614, 93 S.E.2d 889 (1956). A new trial will not be granted unless the prosecutor's comments so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process. State v. Coleman, 301 S.C. 57, 389 S.E.2d 659 (1990) (citing Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 94 S.Ct. 1868, 40 L.Ed.2d 431 (1974)).

Here, the alleged statement of Appellant's brother was not in evidence, nor did he testify regarding any such statement. We find the State's questioning of Appellant about the statement does not amount to putting this in evidence, particularly when Appellant denied having told her brother what was in the statement. 2 Furthermore, we find the reference to it [325 S.C. 108] during closing argument fundamentally unfair under the circumstances of this case. The evidence showing Appellant's guilt was far from overwhelming; it was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. The reference to Appellant's having a plan and offering money for someone to kill Victim, when there was no evidence in the record that she had done so, was highly prejudicial in light of the fact that she was on trial for Victim's...

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37 practice notes
  • State v. Carlson, No. 3948.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • February 22, 2005
    ...there would be no reversible error. Improper closing argument does not automatically require reversal of a conviction. State v. Huggins, 325 S.C. 103, 481 S.E.2d 114 (1997); State v. Copeland, 321 S.C. 318, 468 S.E.2d 620 (1996). "It is impermissible for the prosecution to comment, directly......
  • State v. Hamilton, No. 3317.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 12, 2001
    ...argument, however, do not automatically require reversal of a conviction if they are not prejudicial to the defendant. State v. Huggins, 325 S.C. 103, 481 S.E.2d 114 (1997); State v. Primus, 341 S.C. 592, 535 S.E.2d 152 (Ct.App.2000), cert. granted. The harmless error rule governs improper ......
  • Rivera v. Lewis, C/A No. 5:16-00837-MGL-KDW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • November 9, 2016
    ...trial counsel could have made respecting this comment that would have changed the outcome of the Applicant's trial. See State v. Huggins, 325 S.C. 103, 107, 481 S.E.2d 114, 116 (1997) (finding a solicitor's argument must stay within the record and its reasonable inferences); see also State ......
  • State v. Needs, No. 24856.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • November 23, 1998
    ...misconduct typically involve a prosecutor's improper efforts to collect evidence or unfair trial tactics. E.g., State v. Huggins, 325 S.C. 103, 481 S.E.2d 114 (1997) (prosecutor in closing argument discussed statements that were not in evidence); State v. Chisolm, 312 S.C. 235, 439 S.E.2d 8......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
37 cases
  • State v. Carlson, No. 3948.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • February 22, 2005
    ...there would be no reversible error. Improper closing argument does not automatically require reversal of a conviction. State v. Huggins, 325 S.C. 103, 481 S.E.2d 114 (1997); State v. Copeland, 321 S.C. 318, 468 S.E.2d 620 (1996). "It is impermissible for the prosecution to comment, directly......
  • State v. Hamilton, No. 3317.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 12, 2001
    ...argument, however, do not automatically require reversal of a conviction if they are not prejudicial to the defendant. State v. Huggins, 325 S.C. 103, 481 S.E.2d 114 (1997); State v. Primus, 341 S.C. 592, 535 S.E.2d 152 (Ct.App.2000), cert. granted. The harmless error rule governs improper ......
  • Rivera v. Lewis, C/A No. 5:16-00837-MGL-KDW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • November 9, 2016
    ...trial counsel could have made respecting this comment that would have changed the outcome of the Applicant's trial. See State v. Huggins, 325 S.C. 103, 107, 481 S.E.2d 114, 116 (1997) (finding a solicitor's argument must stay within the record and its reasonable inferences); see also State ......
  • State v. Needs, No. 24856.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • November 23, 1998
    ...misconduct typically involve a prosecutor's improper efforts to collect evidence or unfair trial tactics. E.g., State v. Huggins, 325 S.C. 103, 481 S.E.2d 114 (1997) (prosecutor in closing argument discussed statements that were not in evidence); State v. Chisolm, 312 S.C. 235, 439 S.E.2d 8......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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