Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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Ryan Duke was indicted for malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary, and concealing the death of another in connection with the 2005, death of Tara Grinstead. Duke was initially provided counsel through the Tifton Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s office, but, in September 2018, he obtained pro bono private counsel. The case was set for trial in Irwin County Superior Court, and, in the lead-up to trial, Duke filed a series of motions in the trial court seeking public funding for expert witnesses and investigators to aid his defense. Notwithstanding the trial court’s finding that Duke was indigent and that the assistance of experts was necessary to mount a proper defense, his motions were denied, and the trial court did not grant Duke’s request for a certificate of immediate review pursuant to OCGA 5-6-34 (b). In the absence of a certificate from the trial court, Duke filed both a motion asking the Georgia Suprem Court to stay the proceedings below and an application asking the Court to exercise discretion to allow an interlocutory appeal pursuant to the analysis set forth in Waldrip v. Head, 532 SE2d 380 (2000). The Georgia Supreme Court granted Duke’s request for supersedeas and stay, but held Duke’s application to appeal in abeyance pending consideration of whether Waldrip should be overruled. After briefing and oral argument, the SUpreme Court overruled Waldrip to the extent it permitted the Supreme Court to disregard the requirement set forth in OCGA 5-6-34 (b) that a party must obtain a certificate of immediate review from the trial court before pursuing an interlocutory appeal not otherwise authorized by OCGA 5-6-34 (a). Because the trial court did not issue a certificate of immediate review in this case, the Supreme Court was without jurisdiction to consider Duke’s application for interlocutory appeal. His application was therefore dismissed. The stay previously issued in this case would dissolve when the Supreme Court's remittitur was received by and filed in the trial court. View "Duke v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Kavion Wyzeenski Tookes pled guilty to murder with malice aforethought, kidnapping, armed robbery, and other crimes, all in connection with a violent home invasion. The trial court accepted his plea and promptly imposed sentence, including a sentence of imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole for the murder. The next day, Tookes filed a motion to withdraw his plea, claiming that his lawyer had misadvised him about his sentence and that he was denied his right to be present for a portion of his plea and sentencing. The trial court denied his motion, and Tookes appeled. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court found no error and affirmed. View "Tookes v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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A jury found Johnathan Anthony and Jekari Strozier guilty of a variety of crimes, including felony murder. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court held that “the trial court properly convicted [the] appellants of felony murder predicated upon unlawful participation in criminal gang activity through the commission of a simple battery [Count 4].” The Supreme Court also held that the jury’s verdicts as to voluntary manslaughter (Count 1) and the other felony murder counts (Counts 2-3, 5-7) were vacated by operation of law. Further, the Court held the evidence was insufficient as to Count 11 (affray) and so it reversed that conviction. After explaining in detail how the convictions on Counts 1-3 and 5-13 had been either merged, vacated, or reversed, we affirmed the appellants’ convictions as to the Count 4 felony murder only. The Supreme Court did not remand these cases to the trial court for resentencing. When the cases returned to the trial court, all the court was required to do was to file the remittiturs. Instead, upon the return of the remittiturs, the trial court, at the urging of the prosecutor, entered an “Amended Sentence Pursuant to Supreme Court Decision” for each defendant. The court sentenced Strozier and Anthony to life imprisonment for felony murder predicated on aggravated battery (Count 3, one of the felony murder convictions that had been vacated by operation of law) and to 15 years imprisonment for criminal gang activity (Count 13, aggravated battery, one of the predicate offenses that we held had merged into Count 10, which, in turn, had been merged into Count 4.) The trial court directed a verdict of not guilty on Count 11 and noted that the remaining counts either merged or had been vacated. The appellants contended on appeal to the Supreme Court, and the State conceded, the trial court’s resentencing orders violated the law of the case rule. Because the trial court was precluded from revising the previous holding, the amended sentencing orders were nullities that did not supersede the sentencing orders already reviewed by the Supreme Court. Therefore appellants' sentences as to Count 4 remained in effect. View "Strozier v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Melvin Cooper appealed the denial of his second motion for leave to take an out-of-time appeal. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the earlier denial of his first motion for an out-of-time appeal settled the question of whether he was entitled to an out-of-time appeal, and the matter was deemed res judicata. For that reason, the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Cooper v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Arthur Clark was convicted by jury of felony murder predicated on possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and aggravated assault in connection with the shooting death of his brother-in-law, Sonny Barlow. Before the Georgia Supreme Court, Clark argued: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion for a new trial because the State failed to disprove his affirmative defense of justification based on self-defense; (2) the trial court erred in refusing to give his requested charges on sudden emergency and self-defense; (3) the trial court erred in admitting into evidence documentation of his prior conviction for aggravated cruelty to animals; and (4) the trial court erred in admitting testimony about a prior incident. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Clark v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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A jury found Sean Swanson guilty of felony murder, and of the predicate felony of sale of marijuana, in the shooting death of Noel Reed. On appeal, Swanson argued his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a jury charge on use of force in defense of habitation and for withdrawing a request to charge the jury on voluntary manslaughter. Based on the facts and circumstances of this case, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded Swanson’s trial counsel indeed rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to request a jury charge on use of force in defense of habitation and therefore reversed Swanson’s felony murder conviction. View "Swanson v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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William Davis and Trinika Beamon appealed the trial court’s denial of their motions for new trial after a jury found them guilty of felony murder and related crimes in connection with the death of T’arsha Williams and the aggravated assault of Julius Larry. Davis argued the trial court erred in not applying the rule of lenity in sentencing, and that his trial counsel was ineffective in numerous regards. Beamon argued Georgia’s felony murder statute was unconstitutional and that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions. Finding no merit to either defendant's contentions, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Davis v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Joseph Broxton was convicted by jury of the malice murder of Edward Chadmon, Oliver Campbell, and Rocqwell Nelson; the aggravated assault of Deion Harden, Falana Coley, and Jordan Turner; criminal attempt to commit armed robbery; and seven counts of violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act (the “Street Gang Act”). Broxton’s co-defendant, appellant Daniel Luis Pena, was convicted of the malice murder of Chadmon and Nelson; the aggravated assault of Coley and Turner; criminal attempt to commit armed robbery; and five counts of violation of the Street Gang Act. On appeal, Broxton argued: (1) his trial counsel was ineffective; and (2) the trial court erred in allowing the written statement of a co-indictee to go back into the jury room. Pena contended: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict on Counts 27-33; and (2) his trial counsel was ineffective. Finding no reversible error in either case, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Broxton v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellee James Burns was charged with aggravated sexual battery, aggravated sodomy, and incest. The charges followed the discovery of a social-media message written by Burns’ step-daughter, K.R., detailing an alleged July 2015 sexual encounter with Burns. The message also included the following statement: “And my brother’s best friend tried to rape me.” K.R. later acknowledged that the attempted-rape statement was “made up,” and the State moved in limine to prevent Burns from mentioning it at trial. The trial court granted the State’s motion, concluding “that the probative value of the statement in question is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and confusion of the issues and is inadmissible under OCGA 24-4-403.” The trial court certified the issue for immediate review, and the Court of Appeals granted Burns’s application for interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals followed Smith v. Georgia, 377 SE2d 158 (1989) to reverse the trial court, which had excluded certain evidence of prior false accusations of sexual misconduct from being presented during trial under OCGA 24-4-403. Smith held that such evidence was admissible to attack the credibility of the victim and as substantive evidence tending to prove the conduct underlying the charges did not occur. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to reconsider Smith, and though the Court concluded Smith was wrongly decided, it affirmed the ultimate judgment of the appeals court. View "Georgia v. Burns" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this case to determine whether evidence presented at Kiron McKie's trial was legally sufficient under the new Georgia Evidence Code to support his conviction for possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. McKie was previously convicted of first-degree felony forgery. In considering all of these circumstances from the point of view of ordinarily prudent jurors, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded the evidence of McKie’s prior felony conviction was sufficient to support his conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. It was the only evidence on this point given to the jury; no alternative explanation was given for the guilty plea and accusation, other than that McKie had been convicted of a felony. Under these unusual circumstances, the Court concluded the evidence, though circumstantial, was sufficient to support McKie’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. View "McKie v. Georgia" on Justia Law