South Carolina v. BurdetteAnnotate this Case
Shane Burdette shot and killed Evan Tyner (Victim). Victim died from a single shotgun pellet wound to the back of his neck. After the shooting, Burdette gave several inconsistent statements to law enforcement. The State's theory of the case and Burdette's theory of the case were substantially different. The State claimed murder; Burdette claimed accident. Burdette was indicted and tried for murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Over Burdette's objection, the trial court charged the jury that it could infer the element of malice from the use of a deadly weapon. The jury convicted Burdette of the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The court of appeals affirmed Burdette's conviction, holding that although the trial court erred in giving the inferred malice jury instruction, Burdette suffered no prejudice. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Burdette's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision. After review, the Supreme Court found the trial court's erroneous jury instruction was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. It therefore reversed and remanded for a new trial on the offenses of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The Court also held, regardless of the evidence presented at trial, a trial court would no longer instruct a jury that malice may be inferred from the use of a deadly weapon.