Tuesday, December 11, 2007

SC Supreme Court finds no due process violation where man incarcerated with peitioner served on the jury

In Smith v. State, the SC supreme court upheld a decision of the PCR court denying petitioner post conviction relief. Juror Walling, who had been incarcerated with petitioner and who petitioner allegedly had a fight with, was seated on the jury. Only later after trial did Petitioner realize who Walling was. Petitioner discovered that he and Juror Walling had been incarcerated together at the Colleton County Detention Center in 1997. Petitioner made the connection when his cellmate noticed that Floyd Walling, the cellmate’s cousin, was listed as a juror on Petitioner’s trial transcript. At the PCR hearing, Petitioner testified he did not recognize Walling as the man he knew in prison because Walling had shaved his beard and was not wearing prison attire. Petitioner argued Wallings presence was a per se violation of his constitutional rights. The supreme court disagreed:

Here, it was reasonable for Juror Walling to remain silent when asked during voir dire whether any member of the jury pool was “related by blood or marriage or a close personal friend of [Petitioner].” At the PCR hearing, Juror Walling testified that he and Petitioner were not close friends. Petitioner corroborated Walling’s testimony when he acknowledged that he did not know Walling very well. Juror Walling also testified that he did not have any bias or prejudice against Petitioner, and he and the other members of the jury held the State to its burden of proof before finding Petitioner guilty of the two murder charges.

Based on Juror Walling’s testimony at the hearing, we believe that Walling did not intentionally conceal the existence of his prior relationship with Petitioner. Furthermore, because the disposition of this issue essentially involves a credibility determination as to whether Juror Walling intentionally concealed his prior relationship with Petitioner, we defer to the PCR judge’s findings. The PCR judge specifically found Juror Walling’s testimony to be “highly credible.” Accordingly, we affirm the judge’s holding that Petitioner did not suffer a per se violation of his due process right to a fair and impartial jury.

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