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Case Basics
Docket No. 
South Carolina
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(South Carolina, argued the cause for the respondent)
Facts of the Case 

After convicting William Kelly for murder, a South Carolina jury was asked to determine whether any aggravating factors had been shown and, if so, to recommend a sentence of death or life imprisonment. During sentencing, the prosecutor presented testimony that Kelly had taken part in an escape attempt with plans to hold a female guard hostage; provided evidence of Kelly's sadism and his desires to kill anyone who irritated him; and spoke of Kelly as a "butcher," "bloody," and "dangerous." Relying on the holding of Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, that when "a capital defendant's future dangerousness is at issue, and the only sentencing alternative to life imprisonment without possibility of parole, due process entitles the defendant 'to inform the jury of [his] parole ineligibility,'" Kelly's counsel requested a jury instruction stating that Kelly would be ineligible for parole if he received a life sentence. In refusing, the trial court said that the State's evidence went to Kelly's character and characteristics, not to future dangerousness. The jury recommended a death sentence. In affirming the sentence, the State Supreme Court held Simmons inapposite because state law provided the jury with a third sentencing alternative and future dangerousness was not at issue.


Did the state trial court err in holding Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 inapposite in the death sentence proceeding of William Kelly?

Decision: 5 votes for Kelly, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Due Process

Yes. In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice David H. Souter, the Court held that Kelly was entitled to a jury instruction that he would be ineligible for parole under a life sentence. The Court reasoned that the Simons rule was applicable because under South Carolina's sentencing scheme, although a defendant charged with murder carrying the possibility of a death sentence could receive a sentence less than life imprisonment, a jury's only alternatives were to recommend death or life without parole, if the jury found the existence of an aggravating circumstance. Moreover, the Court found that the assertion that the defendant's future dangerousness was not at issue was unsupportable on the record.

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KELLY v. SOUTH CAROLINA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <>.
KELLY v. SOUTH CAROLINA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 25, 2015).
"KELLY v. SOUTH CAROLINA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015,