State v. Williams, Appellate Case No. 2017-000727

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE FEW
Citation830 S.E.2d 904,427 S.C. 246
Parties The STATE, Respondent, v. Jalann Lee WILLIAMS, Petitioner.
Decision Date19 June 2019
Docket NumberOpinion No. 27895,Appellate Case No. 2017-000727

427 S.C. 246
830 S.E.2d 904

The STATE, Respondent,
v.
Jalann Lee WILLIAMS, Petitioner.

Appellate Case No. 2017-000727
Opinion No. 27895

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard October 18, 2018
Filed June 19, 2019
Rehearing Denied August 15, 2019


Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Melody J. Brown, Assistant Attorney General Sherrie Butterbaugh, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Scarlett Anne Wilson, of Charleston, for Respondent.

JUSTICE FEW :

427 S.C. 247

In this appeal from a conviction for murder, we hold the trial court properly refused to charge the law of self-defense. The defendant shot and killed the victim with an unlawfully-possessed pistol the defendant intentionally brought to an illegal drug transaction. We find the defendant was at fault in bringing on the violence. We affirm.

Robert Mitchell made arrangements with Akim Ladson to meet for the purpose of purchasing from Ladson a particularly high-quality variety of marijuana known as

830 S.E.2d 905

"loud."1 Mitchell then went to the mobile home where he knew Jalann Williams to be living to recruit Williams as a participant in the drug deal. The reasons Mitchell recruited Williams—and Williams agreed to go—are disputed. Mitchell testified Williams told

427 S.C. 248

him he was going to the drug deal to rob Ladson because Williams needed money to pay his bail bondsman on other charges. Williams denied any intent to rob Ladson. He testified he loaned Mitchell the money to buy "loud," but the price seemed low, so he went to the drug deal to be sure Mitchell was buying the proper marijuana. His apparent purpose was to ensure his loan would be repaid. Referring to the price, he testified, "I didn't really trust that but I was like, ‘That's him buying and as long as I get my money back by the end of the week I was all right.’ " Williams further explained his purpose, "I said, ‘well, I'm going to go along with you because I don't believe nobody got no price [sic] for that weed.’ " He later testified, "Out of the whole my main concern was just to get my money back at the end of the week because I needed the money back."

These disputed facts, however, are not important to our analysis. What is important to our analysis is the undisputed fact that when Williams agreed to participate in the drug deal, he made a conscious choice to take his loaded pistol with him.

Williams and Mitchell waited for Ladson in the same mobile home park where Williams was living. Ladson arrived in a car driven by his girlfriend, Alayah Hamlin. Ladson was in the front passenger seat. Williams and Mitchell entered the backseats of Hamlin's car and began the drug deal. Ladson handed Mitchell the marijuana, and Mitchell began to inspect and weigh it on a portable scale Williams brought with him. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Williams, Ladson attacked Williams, Williams feared for his safety, and Williams had no opportunity to get away. Williams then shot and killed Ladson.

The State charged Williams with murder, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. At trial, Williams requested the trial court charge the jury the law of self-defense as to the murder charge. The trial court refused. The jury convicted Williams of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the charge that Williams robbed Ladson. The trial court sentenced Williams to thirty years in prison.

427 S.C. 249

Williams appealed, arguing the trial court erred in refusing to charge the law of self-defense. The court of appeals affirmed. State v. Williams , Op. No. 2017-UP-015, 2017 WL 117305 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Jan. 11, 2017). We granted Williams' petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision.

The trial court must charge the jury on the law applicable to the jury's deliberations. See State v. Marin , 415 S.C. 475, 482, 783 S.E.2d 808, 812 (2016) ("The trial court is required to charge only the current and correct law of South Carolina. The law to be charged must be determined from the evidence presented at trial.") (quotations and citations omitted); Winkler v. State , 418 S.C. 643, 655, 795 S.E.2d 686, 693 (2016) (holding a trial court should not answer a jury's question if the answer is "not applicable to the jury's deliberations") (citation omitted). In some cases, the jury must be charged that criminal liability for homicide may be excused under the doctrine of self-defense. The law requires this self-defense charge, however, only when there is evidence in the record that supports the right of the defendant to use deadly force. To enable trial courts to determine when the evidence does support that right, and thus when the law of self-defense must be charged to the jury, this Court has listed four elements that must be present. State v. Dickey , 394 S.C. 491, 499, 716 S.E.2d 97, 101 (2011). If there is no

830 S.E.2d 906

evidence to support the existence of any one element, the trial court must not charge self-defense to the jury. Whether there is any evidence to support each element is a question of law.

This structure places the burden on the defendant to produce some evidence to support the existence of each element. See Stone v. State , 294 S.C. 286, 287, 363 S.E.2d 903, 904 (1988) (stating "a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense if he has produced evidence tending to show the four elements of that defense"); State v. Bellamy , 293 S.C. 103, 105, 359 S.E.2d 63, 64-65 (1987) (stating the defendant "must ... produce evidence" to support the charge of self-defense), overruled on other grounds by State v. Torrence , 305 S.C. 45, 406 S.E.2d 315 (1991). While the State must present evidence to support the existence of each element of the crime charged, the State is under no burden to produce evidence to

427 S.C. 250

refute the existence of self-defense. However, if there is some evidence to support each element of self-defense—whether found in the State's presentation of evidence or produced by the defendant—it becomes the State's burden to persuade the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one element of the defense does not exist. See State v. Wiggins , 330 S.C. 538, 544, 500 S.E.2d 489, 492-93 (1998) (stating "current law requires the State to disprove self-defense, once raised by the defendant, beyond a reasonable doubt"); Bellamy , 293 S.C. at 105, 359 S.E.2d at 64 (finding the trial court erred in holding the defendant to the burden of persuasion (relying on State v. Glover , 284 S.C. 152, 326 S.E.2d 150 (1985), and State v. Davis , 282 S.C. 45, 317 S.E.2d 452 (1984) )).

This case involves the element we have traditionally described as, "The defendant [must be] without fault in bringing on the difficulty." Dickey , 394 S.C. at 499, 716 S.E.2d at 101. The issue in this case is whether there was any evidence presented at trial that would support a finding Williams was "without fault."2 We addressed the element in State v. Bryant , 336 S.C. 340, 520 S.E.2d 319 (1999). We held the defendant's actions precluded a charge on self-defense as a matter of law because he was "responsible for bringing on the difficulty." 336 S.C. at 346, 520 S.E.2d at 322. We explained, "Any act of the accused in violation of law and reasonably calculated to produce the occasion amounts to bringing on the difficulty and bars his right to assert self-defense as a[n] ... excuse for a homicide." 336 S.C. at 345, 520 S.E.2d at 322 (citing 40 Am. Jur. 2d Homicide § 149 (1999) ). We established in Bryant the principle that a defendant is not entitled to a charge of self-defense if the evidence supports only the conclusion that he acted "in violation of law" in a manner "reasonably calculated to produce [a violent] occasion." Id.

Under this principle from Bryant , the trial court properly refused to charge self-defense. Williams' act of intentionally

427 S.C. 251

bringing a loaded, unlawfully-possessed pistol to an illegal drug transaction was a "violation of law" that was "reasonably calculated to produce" violence. Id. Williams' act "bars his right to assert self-defense as a[n] ... excuse for a homicide." Id.

Intentionally bringing a loaded, unlawfully-possessed pistol to an illegal marijuana transaction is "in violation of law" in three important respects. First, Williams' possession of the pistol was a violation of law. See S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-20 (2015) (providing, "It is unlawful for anyone to carry about the person any handgun ... except ..." under circumstances not applicable in this case). Second, the possession, purchase, or sale of marijuana is a violation of state and federal law. S.C. Code Ann. § 44-53-370(a) and (c) (2018) ; 21 U.S.C.A. §§ 841, 844 (West 2013). Third, and most important, it is a separate

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2 practice notes
  • Fortune v. State, Appellate Case No. 2016-002231
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • December 4, 2019
    ...State pointed to no element of self-defense where it presented overwhelming evidence the element did not exist. See State v. Williams , 427 S.C. 246, 250, 830 S.E.2d 904, 906 (2019) (stating it is "the State's burden to persuade the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one element o......
  • State v. Bowers, 28101
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • June 29, 2022
    ...3, which "we have traditionally described as, 'The defendant [must be] without fault in bringing on the difficulty,'" State v. Williams, 427 S.C. 246, 250, 830 S.E.2d 904, 906 (2019) (quoting Dickey, 394 S.C. at 499, 716 S.E.2d at 101). Under the doctrine of mutual combat, if Bowers had eng......
2 cases
  • Fortune v. State, Appellate Case No. 2016-002231
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • December 4, 2019
    ...State pointed to no element of self-defense where it presented overwhelming evidence the element did not exist. See State v. Williams , 427 S.C. 246, 250, 830 S.E.2d 904, 906 (2019) (stating it is "the State's burden to persuade the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one element o......
  • State v. Bowers, 28101
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • June 29, 2022
    ...3, which "we have traditionally described as, 'The defendant [must be] without fault in bringing on the difficulty,'" State v. Williams, 427 S.C. 246, 250, 830 S.E.2d 904, 906 (2019) (quoting Dickey, 394 S.C. at 499, 716 S.E.2d at 101). Under the doctrine of mutual combat, if Bowers had eng......

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