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Darden v. Wainwright

    Brief Fact Summary. After committing a heinous crime, Darden was convicted of murder, robbery and assault with intent to kill. Petitioner brought appeal, on the grounds that statements made in the prosecution’s closing argument prejudiced his case.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Comments allowed in a closing argument cannot be considered reversible error when the defense has an opportunity to rebut.

    Facts. Petitioner took a female store-owner, at gunpoint, and forced her to give him all of the money in her till. After, when her husband entered the store, Darden killed him and then proceeded to make the woman perform oral sex on him. When a neighbor tried to come in to help, Darden shot him three times and then took off. His car was found a few miles away, and he was arrested on the following day. At trial of the matter, the case was brought against defendant, and in its closing arguments Defense made very strong claims about the prosecution’s lack of evidence. In its closing argument, the prosecution went on to address the defense’ accusations and then went on to strongly urge the jury as to its own case. Defense was afforded an opportunity to rebut; however, the defendant was still convicted and sentenced to death. Defense brought appeal based on the harsh nature of the prosecution’s closing argument.

    Issue. Whether comments made in a closing argument constitute reversible error.

    Held. The court found that the defendant was given ample opportunity to bring out its own case and, despite the prosecution’s closing argument, the trial was basically fair and no reversible error existed.

    Dissent. Justice Blackmun dissented, maintaining that the court, in its opinion, was willing to lower the level of fairness to allow this closing argument although it was obviously misconduct.

    Discussion. This case stands for the proposition that all negative comments about a defendant do not constitute reversible error.


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