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State v. Piper

Supreme Court of South Dakota

January 8, 2014

STATE of South Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
Briley W. PIPER, Defendant and Appellant.

Argued March 18, 2013.

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Marty J. Jackley, Attorney General, Paul S. Swedlund, Assistant Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

Steve Miller, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Attorney for defendant and appellant.

WILBUR, Justice.

[¶ 1.] Briley Piper pleaded guilty to several offenses, including felony murder. The plea-taking court sentenced Piper to death on the murder charge. This Court affirmed Piper's death sentence. Piper then sought habeas relief claiming that he did not validly waive his right to have a jury determine whether to impose the death penalty. This Court granted Piper's writ of habeas corpus and vacated his death sentence. Once the case was remanded to the circuit court for a jury sentencing procedure, Piper filed a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas, which the circuit court denied on the merits. The case proceeded to a jury sentencing. The jury found the existence of three aggravating factors and sentenced Piper to death. Piper appeals the denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty pleas and the proportionality of his sentence. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

[¶ 2.] In 2000, Piper was charged with five offenses, including the murder of Chester Allan Poage.[1] On January 3, 2001, Piper appeared before Judge Warren G. Johnson (the plea-taking court) and pleaded guilty to the charges of first-degree felony murder, kidnapping, first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary, and grand theft. After accepting Piper's guilty pleas to the charged offenses, the court held a three-day sentencing hearing, and ultimately sentenced Piper to death.[2]

[¶ 3.] This Court affirmed Piper's conviction and sentence in State v. Piper ( Piper I ),2006 SD 1, 709 N.W.2d 783. Piper then filed an application for writ of habeas corpus claiming that he did not validly waive his right to have a jury determine whether to impose the death penalty. The habeas court denied the application and Piper appealed that decision.

[¶ 4.] In Piper v. Weber ( Piper II ), we noted that the plea-taking court did not explain to Piper that if the jury was not unanimous in its decision to impose the death penalty, then Piper would receive a life sentence. 2009 S.D. 66, ¶ 17, 771 N.W.2d 352, 358. We reversed the habeas

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court and held that Piper did not validly waive his right to have a jury determine whether to impose the death penalty. Id. ¶ 21, 771 N.W.2d at 360. Thus, we " vacate[d] Piper's death sentence and remand[ed] for a new sentencing proceeding that afford[ed] Piper the right to have a jury decide whether the death penalty should be imposed." Id.

[¶ 5.] Upon remittal and prior to his new sentencing hearing, Piper filed the motion that is the subject of this appeal— a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas for felony murder and the other four non-capital offenses. In his motion, Piper argued that his guilty pleas were not knowing and voluntary because the plea-taking court failed to advise Piper of his purported right to have a jury determine guilt on all of the underlying charges and then to have a sentencing hearing before the circuit court. Piper also alleged that the plea-taking court failed to advise him that he could receive consecutive sentences upon his convictions for kidnapping, robbery, burglary, and grand theft.

[¶ 6.] After conducting a motion hearing and familiarizing himself with the contents of the parties' submissions and both files in Piper I and Piper II, Judge Jerome A. Eckrich III (the circuit court) denied the motion on the merits. The case proceeded to a jury sentencing hearing in July 2011. The jury returned a unanimous verdict finding the existence of three aggravating circumstances pursuant to SDCL 23A-27A-1(3), (6), and (9) and unanimously recommended that a death sentence be imposed.

[¶ 7.] In addition to this Court's automatic review of the death sentence pursuant to SDCL 23A-27A-9, Piper raises two issues. We review the issues presented in the following order:

1. Whether Piper's motion to withdraw his guilty pleas was improperly denied.
2. Whether Piper's sentence was lawfully imposed under SDCL 23A-27A-9 and SDCL 23A-27A-12.[3]

DECISION

[¶ 8.] 1. Whether Piper's motion to withdraw his guilty pleas was improperly denied.

[¶ 9.] Statute, refined by case law, grants this Court broad authority to narrow the scope of further proceedings when judgment is remitted to the circuit court.[4]SDCL 15-30-14 provides that " [i]n all cases the Supreme Court shall remit its judgment or decision to the court fro which the appeal was taken, to be enforced accordingly; and if from a judgment, final judgment shall thereupon be entered in the court below in accordance therewith, except where otherwise ordered." (Emphasis added.) See SDCL 15-30-11 (" [T]he settled record on appeal shall be remitted to the court from which the appeal was taken, and further proceedings shall be had in accordance therewith. " ) (emphasis added), 23A-32-19 (" The Supreme Court by its judgment may reverse, affirm, or modify the judgment or order appealed from...." ). See also SDCL 23A-32-14 (civil appellate procedure applies to criminal appeals unless otherwise provided).

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[¶ 10.] Taken together, these statutes establish that the scope of the circuit court's jurisdiction must conform to the dictates of our opinion. Indeed, in anticipation of this deference, we release our jurisdiction when the remittitur is returned to the circuit court, except in the narrow circumstances of " fraud, mistake, or inadvertence." Bahlkow v. Preston, 62 S.D. 36, 251 N.W. 299, 299-300 (1933). If the circuit court's original jurisdiction could spontaneously resurrect on remittal, the defined roles of our tiered judicial system— as set forth in statute and case law— and the judicial certainty and efficiency they foster would be nullified.[5]

[¶ 11.] Our directives on remittal are clear on the face of our opinions. If we affirm, the circuit court shall enter final judgment. See SDCL 15-30-14, 23A-32-19. Where we order reversal without any qualification, as in a general remand, " [t]he mandate ... nullifies the judgment, findings of fact, and conclusions of law, and leaves the case standing as if no judgment or decree had ever been entered. " Gluscic v. Avera St. Luke's, 2002 S.D. 93, ¶ 20, 649 N.W.2d 916, 920 (quoting Janssen v. Tusha, 67 S.D. 597, 601, 297 N.W. 119, 120 (1941)). Between these two extremes is the limited remand, for which our instructions must exactly govern. " When the scope of remand is limited, the entire case is not reopened, but rather, the lower tribunal is only authorized to carry out the appellate court's mandate." In re Conditional Use Permit Granted to Van Zanten, 1999 S.D. 79, ¶ 13, 598 N.W.2d 861, 864 (citing 5 Am.Jur.2d Appellate Review § 787 (1995)). This procedure mirrors that performed by the United States Supreme Court: " [W]hen the direction contained in the mandate is precise and unambiguous, it is the duty of the [lower court] to carry it into execution, and not to look elsewhere for authority to change its meaning." West v. Brashear, 39 U.S. 51, 54, 14 Pet. 51, 10 L.Ed. 350 (1840).

[¶ 12.] We strictly and purposely limited our remand instructions in Piper II to correct the specific error that had occurred— the denial of a jury at sentencing. In Piper II, we " vacate[d] Piper's death sentence and remand[ed] for a new sentencing proceeding that afford[ed] Piper the right to have a jury decide whether the death penalty should be imposed." Piper II, 2009 S.D. 66, ¶ 21, 771 N.W.2d at 360. As evidenced by authorities cited in the opinion, namely State v. Apple, 2008 S.D. 120, ¶¶ 22-23, 759 N.W.2d 283, 291, and State v. Goodwin, 2004 S.D. 75, ¶ 18, 681 N.W.2d 847, 854, we were aware of the possibility of remanding the case to the circuit court for the ...


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