State v. Williams, No. 26770.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtToal
Citation690 S.E.2d 62,386 S.C. 503
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Charles Christopher WILLIAMS, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 26770.
Decision Date08 February 2010
690 S.E.2d 62
386 S.C. 503
The STATE, Respondent,
v.
Charles Christopher WILLIAMS, Appellant.
No. 26770.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard September 17, 2008.
Decided February 8, 2010.
Rehearing Denied March 25, 2010.

[690 S.E.2d 63]

Deputy Chief Appellate Defender for Capital Appeals Robert M. Dudek, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, and Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, all of Columbia, and Solicitor Robert Mills Ariail, of Greenville, for Respondent.

Chief Justice TOAL:


In this capital murder case, Charles Christopher Williams (Appellant) appeals his sentence of death. Appellant argues (1) that once the jury disclosed its numerical division it was incumbent upon the trial judge to declare a mistrial; (2) that S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-20 required the trial court to sentence Appellant to a life sentence because the jury could not agree on a sentence after "reasonable deliberation;" (3) the trial judge committed error by issuing a coercive Allen charge; and (4) the trial judge erred in refusing to declare a mistrial when a forensic psychiatrist's testimony impermissibly bolstered and vouched for the solicitor's decision to seek the death penalty. We disagree.1

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Around 10:00 a.m. on September 3, 2003, Appellant entered a Bi-Lo grocery store in Greenville where his former girlfriend, Maranda Williams (Victim), worked. Appellant accosted Victim and forced her into an office in the bakery/deli. Victim called 911 from her cell phone. During the ninety-minute phone call, hostage negotiators tried to convince Appellant to release Victim. When Victim attempted to escape Appellant chased, shot, and killed her. Hearing the shots, law enforcement entered the store and apprehended Appellant. Shortly after his arrest, Appellant gave a statement in which he confessed to the crimes for which he was later charged.

Appellant was tried and found guilty of murder, kidnapping, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. During the sentencing phase of the trial, the State sought to establish two statutory aggravating circumstances: (1) the murder was committed while in the commission of kidnapping; and (2) the offender by his act of murder knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person in a public place by means of a weapon. S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-20(C)(a)(1)(b), (C)(a)(3) (2003 & Supp.

690 S.E.2d 64

2007). As its primary witness, the State called Dr. Pamela Crawford. Dr. Crawford testified that she was associated with SLED and called by the Greenville County Solicitor's Office within an hour and fifteen minutes of the crime to "provide assistance."2

Defense counsel objected to Dr. Crawford's testimony and argued that it amounted to expert testimony. The trial judge sustained the objection and gave a curative instruction telling the jury to disregard anything Dr. Crawford said about the death penalty.

The solicitor resumed his questioning of Dr. Crawford and asked, "[w]as the purpose of you interviewing the defendant to provide information to me in consideration of whether or not ___." Before the solicitor could finish the question, defense counsel again objected and the jury was sent out of the courtroom. Defense counsel renewed his objection and emphasized that Dr. Crawford had not been qualified as an expert but was giving testimony that she assisted the solicitor in whether to seek the death penalty. Defense counsel then moved to have Dr. Crawford excused as a witness. The solicitor stated he would withdraw the question. Defense counsel explained he believed the jury would think that the defense was hiding relevant evidence by objecting to Dr. Crawford's testimony. Defense counsel then moved for a mistrial. The trial judge reminded defense counsel that the question was withdrawn, but defense counsel responded with a demand for a mistrial.

The Court denied the motion for a mistrial. After a lunch break, Dr. Crawford was called back to the stand and defense counsel renewed the motion for a mistrial. The judge gave a curative instruction in which he told the jury that Dr. Crawford had not been qualified as an expert. Dr. Crawford then resumed her testimony.

Dr. Crawford testified that she interviewed Appellant for several hours at the Greenville County Law Enforcement Center.3 According to Dr. Crawford, the primary purpose of this interview was to understand Appellant's state of mind at the time of the crime. At the outset of the interview, Dr. Crawford informed Appellant she was a forensic psychiatrist who worked for SLED and the solicitor's office, and any information she obtained could be used in court. Dr. Crawford also emphasized to Appellant that she was not his treating psychiatrist but would refer him to someone if she felt he needed treatment. Although Appellant was not very expressive during the interview, Dr. Crawford testified that Appellant was coherent and characterized his demeanor as calm, pleasant, and cooperative. During the interview, Appellant again confessed to murdering Victim and explained his feelings and the events leading up to the crime.

After motions, closing arguments, and charges, the jury deliberated from 3:50 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Friday, February 18, 2005. The jury resumed deliberations the next morning at 9:30. Shortly before 11:55 a.m., the foreman sent the trial judge a note which stated: "[the] jury is at 9 for death imposition, 3 for life imprisonment. Please refer to instruction about what procedure to follow to resolve."

The judge, out of the presence of the jury, indicated that he intended to give an Allen charge.4 Defense counsel moved for a mistrial arguing that because the jury indicated its division as to a life versus death sentence the judge was required to end the jury's deliberations and impose a sentence of life without parole. The solicitor disagreed, noting the jury had voluntarily revealed its voting division, thus the judge was not required to impose a sentence of life imprisonment.

690 S.E.2d 65

Defense counsel made a motion for a mistrial, motion to sentence Appellant to life imprisonment, and a motion to charge the defense's proposed Allen instruction. The trial judge denied all of defense counsel's motions. The trial judge then informed counsel that he intended to give the jury an Allen charge and would instruct them to continue their deliberations.

After the judge issued an Allen charge, the jury resumed deliberations at 12:02 p.m. At 3:45 p.m., the jury returned to the courtroom after indicating they had reached a verdict. The jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder was committed while in the commission of a kidnapping, and the jury recommended Appellant be sentenced to death. The trial judge then sentenced Appellant to death.5

STANDARD OF REVIEW

"In criminal cases, the appellate court sits to review errors of law only. We are bound by the trial court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous." State v. Wilson, 345 S.C. 1, 5-6, 545 S.E.2d 827, 829 (2001) (citations omitted). "This Court does not re-evaluate the facts based on its own view of the preponderance of the evidence but simply determines whether the trial judge's ruling is supported by any evidence." Id. at 6, 545 S.E.2d at 829. "The admission or exclusion of evidence is left to the sound discretion of the trial judge, whose decision will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion." State v. Saltz, 346 S.C. 114, 121, 551 S.E.2d 240, 244 (2001).

LAW/ANALYSIS
I. Jury's Disclosure of Vote Division

Appellant argues the trial judge erred in declining to sentence him to life imprisonment when the jury, by its written note, revealed it was divided nine to three in favor of death. Appellant contends that under these "unusual circumstances" giving the jury an Allen charge was impractical and coercive against the minority faction of the jury that opposed the death penalty. Ultimately, Appellant argues that once the jury disclosed its numerical division it was incumbent upon the trial judge to declare a mistrial. We disagree.

As a threshold matter, "[n]either the Due Process clause nor the Eighth Amendment forbid the giving of an Allen charge in the sentencing phase of a capital proceeding." Tucker v. Catoe, 346 S.C. 483, 490, 552 S.E.2d 712, 716 (2001) (citing Lowenfield v. Phelps, 484 U.S. 231, 108 S.Ct. 546, 98 L.Ed.2d 568 (1988); Jones v. United States, 527 U.S. 373, 119 S.Ct. 2090, 144 L.Ed.2d 370 (1999)). "The typical judicial mechanism for encouraging an indecisive jury is the Allen charge, in which jurors are instructed on, among other things, their duties to approach the evidence with an open mind and consider the opinions of their fellow jurors." State v. Robinson, 360 S.C. 187, 193, 600 S.E.2d 100, 103 (Ct.App.2004).

We find the trial judge's issuance of an Allen charge was not improper. Initially, we agree with Appellant that it is improper for a trial judge to inquire into the numerical division of a jury. See State v. Middleton, 218 S.C. 452, 457, 63 S.E.2d 163, 165 (1951); Lowenfield, 484 U.S. at 239-40, 108 S.Ct. 546 Brasfield v. United States, 272 U.S. 448, 450, 47 S.Ct. 135, 71 L.Ed. 345 (1926). However, these decisions are inapplicable in the instant case because the jury here voluntarily disclosed its numerical division and requested further instructions on how to proceed. The judge then promptly informed the attorneys of the jurors' numerical division and indicated that he could give an Allen charge. Unlike other cases, the trial judge did not inquire about the specifics of the jury's impasse. See United States v. Brokemond, 959 F.2d 206, 209 (11th Cir.1992) ("Unsolicited disclosure of the jury's division by a juror is not by itself grounds for a mistrial."). Therefore, we hold the trial judge committed no error in not declaring a mistrial and giving an Allen charge...

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41 practice notes
  • People v. Valdez, No. S062180.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 9, 2012
    ...State (Ala.Crim.App.1994) 645 So.2d 363, 365–366;State v. M.L. Jr. (La.Ct.App.2010) 35 So.3d 1183, 1194–1195;State v. Williams (S.C.2010) 386 S.C. 503, 513–516, 690 S.E.2d 62.) For all of these reasons, we disapprove Gainer's dictum. [55 Cal.4th 164]In any event, even were we to find that t......
  • People v. Valdez, No. S062180.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 9, 2012
    ...State (Ala.Crim.App.1994) 645 So.2d 363, 365–366;State v. M.L. Jr. (La.Ct.App.2010) 35 So.3d 1183, 1194–1195;State v. Williams (S.C.2010) 386 S.C. 503, 513–516, 690 S.E.2d 62.) For all of these reasons, we disapprove Gainer's dictum. [55 Cal.4th 164]In any event, even were we to find that t......
  • Allegro, Inc. v. Emmett J. Scully, Synergetic, Inc., No. 5245.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 26, 2014
    ...on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.’ ” State v. Byers, 392 S.C. 438, 444, 710 S.E.2d 55, 57–58 (2011) (quoting State v. Williams, 386 S.C. 503, 509, 690 S.E.2d 62, 65 (2010)). “ ‘An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's ruling is based on an error of law.’ ” Id. at 444, 710......
  • Allegro, Inc. v. Emmett J. Scully, Synergetic, Inc., Appellate Case No. 2008-099926
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 30, 2014
    ...on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.'" State v. Byers, 392 S.C. 438, 444, 710 S.E.2d 55, 57-58 (2011) (quoting State v. Williams, 386 S.C. 503, 509, 690 S.E.2d 62, 65 (2010)). "'An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's ruling is based on an error of law.'" Id. at 444, 710 S.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
41 cases
  • People v. Valdez, No. S062180.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 9, 2012
    ...State (Ala.Crim.App.1994) 645 So.2d 363, 365–366;State v. M.L. Jr. (La.Ct.App.2010) 35 So.3d 1183, 1194–1195;State v. Williams (S.C.2010) 386 S.C. 503, 513–516, 690 S.E.2d 62.) For all of these reasons, we disapprove Gainer's dictum. [55 Cal.4th 164]In any event, even were we to find that t......
  • People v. Valdez, No. S062180.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 9, 2012
    ...State (Ala.Crim.App.1994) 645 So.2d 363, 365–366;State v. M.L. Jr. (La.Ct.App.2010) 35 So.3d 1183, 1194–1195;State v. Williams (S.C.2010) 386 S.C. 503, 513–516, 690 S.E.2d 62.) For all of these reasons, we disapprove Gainer's dictum. [55 Cal.4th 164]In any event, even were we to find that t......
  • Allegro, Inc. v. Emmett J. Scully, Synergetic, Inc., No. 5245.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 26, 2014
    ...on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.’ ” State v. Byers, 392 S.C. 438, 444, 710 S.E.2d 55, 57–58 (2011) (quoting State v. Williams, 386 S.C. 503, 509, 690 S.E.2d 62, 65 (2010)). “ ‘An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's ruling is based on an error of law.’ ” Id. at 444, 710......
  • Allegro, Inc. v. Emmett J. Scully, Synergetic, Inc., Appellate Case No. 2008-099926
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 30, 2014
    ...on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.'" State v. Byers, 392 S.C. 438, 444, 710 S.E.2d 55, 57-58 (2011) (quoting State v. Williams, 386 S.C. 503, 509, 690 S.E.2d 62, 65 (2010)). "'An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's ruling is based on an error of law.'" Id. at 444, 710 S.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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