Kelly v. South Carolina, 534 U.S. 246, 11 (2002)

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Opinion of the Court

complemented the prosecutor's submissions that Kelly was "more frightening than a serial killer," App. 260, and that "murderers will be murderers," id., at 272.6 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 (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment).

Perhaps because this is so undeniable, the State in its argument before us takes a tack never pursued by the state court, in claiming there was no need for instruction on parole ineligibility, because "there is nothing whatsoever to indicate that the jurors were concerned at all with the possibility of [Kelly's] future release when they decided death was appropriate." Brief for Respondent 47. But it cannot matter that Kelly's jury did not ask the judge for further instruction on parole eligibility, whereas the Simmons and Shafer juries did. See Shafer, 532 U. S., at 44; Simmons, supra, at 160. 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. Cf. C. Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure 485, p. 375 (3d ed. 2000) ("It is the duty of the trial judge to charge the jury on all essential questions of law, whether requested or not"). Time after time appellate courts have found jury instructions to be insufficiently clear without any record that the jury manifested its confusion; one need look no further than Penry v. Johnson, 532 U. S. 782 (2001), for a recent example. While the jurors' questions in Simmons and Shafer confirmed the inadequacy of the charges in those cases, in each case it was independently

put future dangerousness at issue, but here, the prosecution proffered evidence of at least one violent escape attempt. The evidence of Kelly's plan to take a female guard hostage with a shank underscored a propensity for violence in addition to a predilection to escape.

6 The latter statement, in fact, speaks not to Kelly's past conduct, but to his future deportment.

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