2012 South Carolina Code of Laws
Title 16 - Crimes and Offenses
Chapter 3 - OFFENSES AGAINST THE PERSON
Section 16-3-20 - Punishment for murder; separate sentencing proceeding when death penalty sought.


SC Code § 16-3-20 (2012) What's This?

(A) A person who is convicted of or pleads guilty to murder must be punished by death, or by a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for thirty years to life. If the State seeks the death penalty and a statutory aggravating circumstance is found beyond a reasonable doubt pursuant to subsections (B) and (C), and a recommendation of death is not made, the trial judge must impose a sentence of life imprisonment. For purposes of this section, "life" or "life imprisonment" means until death of the offender without the possibility of parole, and when requested by the State or the defendant, the judge must charge the jury in his instructions that life imprisonment means until the death of the defendant without the possibility of parole. In cases where the defendant is eligible for parole, the judge must charge the applicable parole eligibility statute. No person sentenced to life imprisonment pursuant to this section is eligible for parole, community supervision, or any early release program, nor is the person eligible to receive any work credits, education credits, good conduct credits, or any other credits that would reduce the mandatory life imprisonment required by this section. No person sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for thirty years to life pursuant to this section is eligible for parole or any early release program, nor is the person eligible to receive any work credits, education credits, good conduct credits, or any other credits that would reduce the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for thirty years to life required by this section. Under no circumstances may a female who is pregnant be executed so long as she is pregnant or for a period of at least nine months after she is no longer pregnant. When the Governor commutes a sentence of death to life imprisonment under the provisions of Section 14, Article IV of the Constitution of South Carolina, 1895, the commutee is not eligible for parole, community supervision, or any early release program, nor is the person eligible to receive any work credits, good conduct credits, education credits, or any other credits that would reduce the mandatory imprisonment required by this subsection.

(B) When the State seeks the death penalty, upon conviction or adjudication of guilt of a defendant of murder, the court shall conduct a separate sentencing proceeding. In the proceeding, if a statutory aggravating circumstance is found, the defendant must be sentenced to either death or life imprisonment. If no statutory aggravating circumstance is found, the defendant must be sentenced to either life imprisonment or a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for thirty years to life. The proceeding must be conducted by the trial judge before the trial jury as soon as practicable after the lapse of twenty-four hours unless waived by the defendant. If trial by jury has been waived by the defendant and the State, or if the defendant pleaded guilty, the sentencing proceeding must be conducted before the judge. In the sentencing proceeding, the jury or judge shall hear additional evidence in extenuation, mitigation, or aggravation of the punishment. Only such evidence in aggravation as the State has informed the defendant in writing before the trial is admissible. This section must not be construed to authorize the introduction of any evidence secured in violation of the Constitution of the United States or the State of South Carolina or the applicable laws of either. The State, the defendant, and his counsel are permitted to present arguments for or against the sentence to be imposed. The defendant and his counsel shall have the closing argument regarding the sentence to be imposed.

(C) The judge shall consider, or he shall include in his instructions to the jury for it to consider, mitigating circumstances otherwise authorized or allowed by law and the following statutory aggravating and mitigating circumstances which may be supported by the evidence:

(a) Statutory aggravating circumstances:

(1) The murder was committed while in the commission of the following crimes or acts:

(a) criminal sexual conduct in any degree;

(b) kidnapping;

(c) trafficking in persons;

(d) burglary in any degree;

(e) robbery while armed with a deadly weapon;

(f) larceny with use of a deadly weapon;

(g) killing by poison;

(h) drug trafficking as defined in Section 44-53-370(e), 44-53-375(B), 44-53-440, or 44-53-445;

(i) physical torture;

(j) dismemberment of a person; or

(k) arson in the first degree as defined in Section 16-11-110(A).

(2) The murder was committed by a person with a prior conviction for murder.

(3) 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 or device which normally would be hazardous to the lives of more than one person.

(4) The offender committed the murder for himself or another for the purpose of receiving money or a thing of monetary value.

(5) The murder of a judicial officer, former judicial officer, solicitor, former solicitor, or other officer of the court during or because of the exercise of his official duty.

(6) The offender caused or directed another to commit murder or committed murder as an agent or employee of another person.

(7) The murder of a federal, state, or local law enforcement officer or former federal, state, or local law enforcement officer, peace officer or former peace officer, corrections officer or former corrections officer, including a county or municipal corrections officer or a former county or municipal corrections officer, a county or municipal detention facility employee or former county or municipal detention facility employee, or fireman or former fireman during or because of the performance of his official duties.

(8) The murder of a family member of an official listed in subitems (5) and (7) above with the intent to impede or retaliate against the official. "Family member" means a spouse, parent, brother, sister, child, or person to whom the official stands in the place of a parent or a person living in the official's household and related to him by blood or marriage.

(9) Two or more persons were murdered by the defendant by one act or pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct.

(10) The murder of a child eleven years of age or under.

(11) The murder of a witness or potential witness committed at any time during the criminal process for the purpose of impeding or deterring prosecution of any crime.

(12) The murder was committed by a person deemed a sexually violent predator pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 48, Title 44, or a person deemed a sexually violent predator who is released pursuant to Section 44-48-120.

(b) Mitigating circumstances:

(1) The defendant has no significant history of prior criminal conviction involving the use of violence against another person.

(2) The murder was committed while the defendant was under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance.

(3) The victim was a participant in the defendant's conduct or consented to the act.

(4) The defendant was an accomplice in the murder committed by another person and his participation was relatively minor.

(5) The defendant acted under duress or under the domination of another person.

(6) The capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was substantially impaired.

(7) The age or mentality of the defendant at the time of the crime.

(8) The defendant was provoked by the victim into committing the murder.

(9) The defendant was below the age of eighteen at the time of the crime.

(10) The defendant had mental retardation at the time of the crime. "Mental retardation" means significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period.

The statutory instructions as to statutory aggravating and mitigating circumstances must be given in charge and in writing to the jury for its deliberation. The jury, if its verdict is a recommendation of death, shall designate in writing, and signed by all members of the jury, the statutory aggravating circumstance or circumstances which it found beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury, if it does not recommend death, after finding a statutory aggravating circumstance or circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, shall designate in writing, and signed by all members of the jury, the statutory aggravating circumstance or circumstances it found beyond a reasonable doubt. In nonjury cases the judge shall make the designation of the statutory aggravating circumstance or circumstances. Unless at least one of the statutory aggravating circumstances enumerated in this section is found, the death penalty must not be imposed.

Where a statutory aggravating circumstance is found and a recommendation of death is made, the trial judge shall sentence the defendant to death. The trial judge, before imposing the death penalty, shall find as an affirmative fact that the death penalty was warranted under the evidence of the case and was not a result of prejudice, passion, or any other arbitrary factor. Where a statutory aggravating circumstance is found and a sentence of death is not recommended by the jury, the trial judge shall sentence the defendant to life imprisonment as provided in subsection (A). Before dismissing the jury, the trial judge shall question the jury as to whether or not it found a statutory aggravating circumstance or circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury does not unanimously find any statutory aggravating circumstances or circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, it shall not make a sentencing recommendation. Where a statutory aggravating circumstance is not found, the trial judge shall sentence the defendant to either life imprisonment or a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for thirty years. No person sentenced to life imprisonment or a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for thirty years under this section is eligible for parole or to receive any work credits, good conduct credits, education credits, or any other credits that would reduce the sentence required by this section. If the jury has found a statutory aggravating circumstance or circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury shall designate this finding, in writing, signed by all the members of the jury. The jury shall not recommend the death penalty if the vote for such penalty is not unanimous as provided. If members of the jury after a reasonable deliberation cannot agree on a recommendation as to whether or not the death sentence should be imposed on a defendant found guilty of murder, the trial judge shall dismiss such jury and shall sentence the defendant to life imprisonment as provided in subsection (A).

(D) Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 14-7-1020, in cases involving capital punishment a person called as a juror must be examined by the attorney for the defense.

(E) In a criminal action in which a defendant is charged with a crime which may be punishable by death, a person may not be disqualified, excused, or excluded from service as a juror by reason of his beliefs or attitudes against capital punishment unless such beliefs or attitudes would render him unable to return a verdict according to law.

HISTORY: 1962 Code Section 16-52; 1952 Code Section 16-52; 1942 Code Section 1102; 1932 Code Section 1102; Cr. C. '22 Section 2; Cr. C. '12 Section 136; Cr. C. '02 Section 109; G. S. 2454; R. S. 109; 1868 (14) 175; 1894 (21) 785; 1974 (58) 2361; 1977 Act No. 177 Section 1; 1978 Act No. 555 Section 1; 1985 Act No. 104, Section 1; 1986 Act No. 462, Section 27; 1990 Act No. 604, Section 15; 1992 Act No. 488, Section 1; 1995 Act No. 83, Section 10; 1996 Act No. 317, Section 1; 2002 Act No. 224, Section 1, eff May 1, 2002 (applicable to offenses committed on or after that date); 2002 Act No. 278, Section 1, eff May 28, 2002; 2006 Act No. 342, Section 2, eff July 1, 2006; 2007 Act No. 101, Section 1, eff June 18, 2007; 2010 Act No. 273, Section 21, eff June 2, 2010; 2010 Act No. 289, Section 4, eff June 11, 2010.

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