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State v. Williams

Supreme Court of South Carolina

June 19, 2019

The State, Respondent,
Jalann Lee Williams, Petitioner. Appellate Case No. 2017-000727

          Heard October 18, 2018


          Appeal from Charleston County R. Lawton McIntosh, Circuit Court Judge

          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.

          FEW, JUSTICE

         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 "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 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.

         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 (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 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 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 ...

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