Kelly v. South Carolina, 534 U.S. 246, 6 (2002)

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

Opinion of the Court

After deliberating for 43 minutes, the jury found five statutory aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and returned a recommendation of death, id., at 305-307, to which the trial court acceded.

On appeal to the Supreme Court of South Carolina, Kelly assigned error to the trial court's refusal to instruct that he would be ineligible for parole under a life sentence. The State Supreme Court ruled otherwise and gave two alternative grounds for affirming the sentence. First, it followed the trial court in saying that the State's evidence at sentencing did not raise future dangerousness and so did not trigger Simmons: "[W]e agree with the trial court that the State's evidence at sentencing did not implicate future dangerousness. . . . In our opinion, the evidence presented by the State in the penalty phase was designed to show that Kelly would not adapt to prison life . . . ." 343 S. C., at 362, 540 S. E. 2d, at 857. Second, relying on its own ruling in State v. Shafer, 340 S. C. 291, 531 S. E. 2d 524 (2000), rev'd, Shafer v. South Carolina, 532 U. S. 36 (2001), the state court held that Simmons had no application to the sentencing regime in place at Kelly's trial. 343 S. C., at 364, 540 S. E. 2d, at 858. The State Supreme Court committed error on each point. We granted certiorari, 533 U. S. 928 (2001), and now reverse.


We take the State Supreme Court's reasons out of order, for the second one can be answered with little more than citation to Shafer, in which we reversed a South Carolina judgment last Term. The state court said that "Simmons is inapplicable under [South Carolina's] new sentencing scheme because life without the possibility of parole is not the only legally available sentence alternative to death." 343 S. C., at 364, 540 S. E. 2d, at 858. That statement mistakes the relationship of Simmons to the state sentencing scheme. It is true that a defendant charged with murder carrying the


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