Kelly v. South Carolina, 534 U.S. 246, 2 (2002)

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Cite as: 534 U. S. 246 (2002)


court saw the evidence as going only to Kelly's behavior in prison, or to his proclivity to escape from it, and overlooked the fact that evidence of violent behavior in prison can raise a strong implication of generalized future dangerousness, Simmons, supra, at 171. A jury hearing evidence of a defendant's propensity for violence reasonably will conclude that he presents a risk of violent behavior, whether locked up or free, and whether free as a fugitive or as a parolee. Evidence of future dangerousness under Simmons is evidence with a tendency to prove dangerousness in the future; its relevance to that point does not disappear merely because it might support other inferences or be described in other terms. The prosecutor accentuated the clear inference of future dangerousness raised by the evidence and placed the case within the four corners of Simmons. Although his characterizations of butchery went to retribution, that did not make them any the less arguments that Kelly would be dangerous down the road. Thus was Kelly's jury, like its predecessor in Simmons, invited to infer "that petitioner is a vicious predator who would pose a continuing threat to the community." Simmons, supra, at 176. It is not dispositive that Kelly's jury did not ask the judge for further instruction on parole eligibility, whereas the Simmons and Shafer juries did. A trial judge's duty is to give instructions sufficient to explain the law, an obligation that exists independently of any question from the jurors or any other indication of perplexity on their part. Nor is there any reason to believe that Kelly's jury was better informed than Simmons's or Shafer's on the matter of parole eligibility. Pp. 251-258.

343 S. C. 350, 540 S. E. 2d 851, reversed and remanded.

Souter, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Stevens, O'Connor, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Rehnquist, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kennedy, J., joined, post, p. 258. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia, J., joined, post, p. 262.

David I. Bruck, by appointment of the Court, 534 U. S. 809, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Robert M. Dudek.

S. Creighton Waters, Assistant Attorney General of South Carolina, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Charles M. Condon, Attorney General, John W. McIntosh, Chief Deputy Attorney General, and Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Deputy Attorney General.


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