Yates v. Aiken

LOCATION:Wall Street Journal Corporate Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 86-6060
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1987-1988)

CITATION: 484 US 211 (1988)
ARGUED: Dec 02, 1987
DECIDED: Jan 12, 1988

Facts of the case


Media for Yates v. Aiken

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 02, 1987 in Yates v. Aiken

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 12, 1988 in Yates v. Aiken

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 86-6060, Yates against Aiken will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This case comes to us from the South Carolina Supreme Court that the petitioner and in accomplice robbed a country store in South Carolina in 1981.

After the petitioner left the store, a fight occurred in which his the accomplice and the wife of the storekeeper were both killed.

Petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to death and the conviction sentence was affirmed by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

At his trial, the petitioner testified that he did not intend to kill anyone or to harm anyone and of course he pointed out that the victim had not even been present when he was in the store, the jury was nevertheless instructed that malice could be presumed from the fact that he had a deadly weapon in his possession.

A few months after his conviction was affirmed.

In an unrelated case involving a man named Elmore, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the instruction similar the one given in petitioner’s trial was improper and unconstitutional and the petitioner therefore, sought a relief based on that holding.

And while his petition is pending in the South Carolina Supreme Court, we decided a case called Francis against Franklin, which also held such an instruction unconstitutional and the petitioner then called that case to the attention of South Carolina Supreme Court as well as relying of an earlier case of arson the similar ban called Sandstrom against Montana.

The South Carolina Supreme Court denied relief without an opinion.

The petitioner then sought relief from us and we granted certiorari and summarily vacated the judgment and requested the South Carolina Supreme Court to reconsider its action in the light of the Francis decision.

When the case went back to the South Carolina Supreme Court they concluded that the instruction was inconsistent with Francis and also with Elmore but nevertheless denied relief because they did not think they should apply the Elmore case, which is a state case retroactively.

So, the petitioner came back again and we granted certiorari, because we are concerned that the South Carolina Supreme Court might not have fully complied with our mandate, and we agreed of course with the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The constitutional errer was committed but they did not consider whether the Francis case might be applied retroactively, so it was incumbent upon to do so.

We have nwo decided that there really is no retroactivity issue even presented because Francis against Franklin was merely an application of a principle decided in the earlier case and therefore we have reversed the judgment of the South Carolina Supreme Court with instructions to comply with what we say in our opinion.

The opinion is unanimous.