Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty in Church Shooting Case

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Gavel and handcuffs

Government lawyers prosecuting the criminal case against alleged the alleged South Carolina church shooter recently announced that they will be asking the jury to impose the death penalty if the alleged shooter is convicted. In South Carolina, the death penalty is reserved for cases where the Defendant is charged with murder when the alleged murder is accompanied by certain circumstances of “aggravation.”  Aggravating factors include trying to kill more than one person, having been convicted previously of murder, killing a child younger than eleven years of age, killing for personal gain, killing a law enforcement officer, killing a potential witness to keep that person from testifying, killing while committing criminal sexual conduct, and other circumstances outlined in South Carolina Code Section 16-3-20(C)(a).
Individuals charged with crimes punishable by the death penalty experience a longer and more protracted criminal trial process than other criminal defendants. They also enjoy certain rights and protections that are not implicated in most other criminal cases. So how does a death penalty case differ from other criminal cases?

The Prosecutor Decides Whether to Seek the Death Penalty

It is always the decision of the government’s attorneys whether they will seek the death penalty in any eligible murder case. In general, prosecutors can make this determination so long as there exist facts sufficient to establish the statutory aggravating factors necessary for death penalty certification. The prosecutors must indicate to the defense attorney if they intend to seek the death penalty prior to trial.

The Jury Decides if a Statutory Aggravating Factor Exists Following a Conviction

If the jury finds the defendant guilty, then the trial proceeds into a second, sentencing phase (unlike most other criminal trials). During this phase, the jury hears additional evidence in order to determine if one of the above twelve statutorily-described “aggravating factors” is present. The jury will also hear evidence in mitigation.
If a statutory aggravating factor is found, then the jury will either recommend to the court that the defendant be put to death or that he serve a life sentence in jail. (If no statutory aggravating factor is found, the defendant cannot be put to death). If the jury intends to recommend death, then it must be unanimous in its recommendation.

Appeal Rights are Generally Greater in Death Penalty Cases

If a defendant is convicted of murder and sentenced to death, the defendant has several levels of appeals available to him or her in both the state and federal courts. In fact, the defendant can (theoretically, at least) attempt to appeal his or her case up to the United States Supreme Court. South Carolina law provides that any sentence of death is automatically reviewed by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Help that Death Penalty Defendants Need to Know About

Death penalty cases are extremely complex and require the skills of an attorney who has dedicated his or her practice to the defense of such cases and who has significant experience in handling violent felony charges.
If you have been charged with any criminal offense in South Carolina, speak with Greenville criminal defense attorneys at David R. Price, Jr, P.A. about your options. David R. Price, Jr. and Sam Tooker have helped numerous South Carolina residents obtain favorable outcomes in their criminal cases. Set up your free consultation to discuss your case with them by either calling (864) 271-2636 or contacting the offices of David R. Price, Jr., P.A. online.


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