State v. Wright


THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA In The Court of Appeals The State, Respondent, v. Randy Wright, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2017-002130 Appeal From Berkeley County Maitѐ Murphy, Circuit Court Judge Opinion No. 5782 Heard August 19, 2020 – Filed November 18, 2020 REVERSED AND REMANDED Appellate Defender Joanna Katherine Delany, of Columbia, for Appellant. Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Deborah R.J. Shupe, both of Columbia; and Solicitor Scarlett Anne Wilson, of Charleston, all for Respondent. HILL, J.: After deliberating two hours in Randy Wright's trial for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature (ABHAN), the jury signaled it had reached a verdict. When the jury returned to the courtroom, the trial court directed the courtroom clerk to publish the verdict. The clerk read the verdict form, announcing the jury had found Wright guilty of ABHAN and that the form had been signed by the forelady. The clerk then stated: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury if this is your verdict, would you please signify by raising your right hand?" In response, each juror raised his or her right hand. Wright then asked the trial court to poll each juror individually. The court declined, explaining that, in response to the clerk's inquiry "each of the jurors raised their hand individually." Wright appeals, asserting the clerk's collective inquiry did not satisfy his polling right. We agree and reverse. I. The custom of polling a jury after a verdict developed in English practice, although no precise method predominated. See Matthew Hale, Pleas of the Crown, 299–300 (Vol. II, 1800) ("[I]f the jury say they are agreed, the court may examine them by poll . . . ."). Early South Carolina cases permitted polling in the trial court's discretion. State v. Wyse, 32 S.C. 45, 10 S.E. 612, 615 (1890); State v. Allen, 12 S.C.L. (1 McCord) 525, 526–27 (1822). The trial court's discretion ended in State v. Linder, which held a poll must be taken if requested and implied each juror must be polled individually. 276 S.C. 304, 309, 278 S.E.2d 335, 338 (1981). The right to poll the jury is not in itself a constitutional right but a procedural protection of the defendant's constitutional right to a unanimous verdict. State v. Pare, 755 A.2d 180, 188 (Conn. 2000). It also safeguards the right to a public trial. If the poll reveals the jury's announced verdict is not in fact unanimous, the verdict cannot stand, and the trial court may, as circumstances warrant, direct further deliberation or declare a mistrial. State v. Kelly, 372 S.C. 167, 170–71, 641 S.E.2d 468, 470 (Ct. App. 2007). Just as trial counsel has no duty to request a poll, the trial court has no duty to conduct one without a request. Green v. State, 351 S.C. 184, 196, 569 S.E.2d 318, 324 (2002); Linder, 276 S.C. at 308–09, 278 S.E.2d at 338. Besides shoring up these rights, individual polling supports several other interests of justice. The courtroom air thins …

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