What did State v. Beaty Decide About the Order of Closing?
The day after the State v. Beaty decision was published, Court Administration released a memo to all circuit court and summary court judges, explaining the decision to them. (Because, for some reason, judges cannot read appellate opinions and Court Administration must break it down for them?)
Their take on it is not much different from my own – what are SC judges being told that the opinion means?
What Does the Memo Say?
It summarizes the Beaty opinion and the existing rules for order and content of closing before addressing the real issue:
Currently, there is no rule governing the content and order of closing arguments in criminal cases in which a defendant introduces evidence, except for the “constitutional rule” that a defendant’s right to due process cannot be violated at any stage of trial. Consequently, judges must, on a case-by-case basis, ensure that a defendant’s due process rights are not violated during the closing argument stage. Absent authority to formally adopt procedural rules, our authority – and the authority of the trial court – is but to address due process considerations as they arise. In cases in which a defendant introduces evidence, trial judges clearly have the authority to require the State to open in full on the facts and the law and to restrict the State’s reply argument to matters raised by the defense in closing. This authority remains in keeping with the trial judge’s authority to ensure that a defendant’s due process rights are not violated during a criminal trial. We remain mindful of the need for clearly articulated rules governing the content and order of closing arguments in cases in which a defendant introduces evidence. The uncertainty resulting from the absence of such rules is unfortunate. We hope the day will soon come when such rules are firmly in place.
What Did the Beaty Opinion Decide?
We can draw the following conclusions from the opinion and Court Administration’s memo:
- There is no rule for the order and content of closing argument when the defendant introduces evidence;
- Judges must ensure defendant’s due process rights are not violated;
- Trial judges can require the State to open in full on the facts and the law and to restrict the State’s reply argument to matters raised by the defense in closing;
- The above statement is consistent with protecting defendants’ due process rights;
- The Supreme Court, the only Court who can say whether not requiring the State to open in full on the facts and law is a violation of due process, will not say whether it is a violation of due process; and
- This is all very unfortunate.
I agree. The SC Supreme Court bemoans how they cannot make the rules for order of closing, while sidestepping their responsibility to ensure that defendants have due process – they’ve all but said it’s a violation of due process, but refuse to rule on the issue. Why?
Charleston, SC Criminal Defense Lawyer
The order of closing and prosecutors “sandbagging” during their closing argument has been an issue for as long as I can remember – it is incredibly frustrating that the SC Supreme Court refuses to even address the issue. Is it a violation of due process? Who’s to say if not the Supreme Court?
Charleston defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone accepts criminal defense cases in the Charleston, Georgetown, and Myrtle Beach areas of Eastern SC. If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime in SC, call now at (843) 808-2100 or send us a message through our website to schedule a free consultation.