Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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Ricquavious Tarver was convicted of murder and other crimes related to the shooting death of Roosevelt Demmons. The incident occurred in August 2016 at a car wash owned by Alton Tucker. Tarver and Demmons had a prior confrontation, and on the day of the shooting, Tarver confronted Demmons again. Tarver testified that he felt threatened by Demmons, who was walking towards him, so he shot Demmons eight times. Tarver was charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, plus five years to be served consecutively.Tarver appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of his knowledge of Demmons's previous violent acts and a video-recorded interview of him by the police. The trial court denied his motion for a new trial, and Tarver appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that even if the trial court erred in excluding the evidence, any such error was harmless. The court noted that Tarver's claim of self-defense was weak and that there was strong evidence undercutting his defense. Furthermore, the court found that the evidence of Tarver's cooperation with the police from the video-recorded interview would be largely cumulative of the other evidence presented at trial, and therefore it was highly probable that the exclusion of the video did not contribute to the verdict. View "TARVER v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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Ricardo Sturkey was convicted of malice murder and other crimes related to the shooting death of Albert White. The crimes occurred in February 2009, and Sturkey was indicted by a Macon County grand jury in July 2010. In December 2010, a jury found Sturkey guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to life in prison for malice murder, along with additional concurrent and consecutive terms for other crimes. Sturkey filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court in January 2022.The Supreme Court of Georgia reviewed the case in 2024. Sturkey raised two claims of trial court error and argued that his trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance. The first claim was that the trial judge expressed an opinion on Sturkey's guilt during the questioning of a witness, violating Georgia law. The court found no error, as the judge's questions focused on the witness's methodology and did not express an opinion on the credibility of the witness or the facts of the case.Sturkey's second claim was that the trial court erred in its statements about the potential admissibility of polygraph evidence. The court found no error, as the trial court had not made a definitive ruling on the admissibility of the polygraph evidence, and the evidence was not admitted at trial.Finally, Sturkey argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for discontinuing cross-examination of a principal investigator and for failing to present the testimony of a witness who could provide evidence of additional suspects. The court found no merit in these claims, as Sturkey failed to demonstrate that his counsel's performance was deficient or that he was prejudiced as a result. The court affirmed Sturkey's conviction. View "STURKEY v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Kenneth Lee Baker, who was convicted for the murders of his wife, Lynnale Baker, and stepdaughter, Shaelinda Sanders, and for possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. The victims were found dead in May 2010, and Baker was indicted in February 2011. He was found guilty on all charges except for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, which was not submitted to the jury. The trial court imposed four consecutive life-without-parole sentences for the murder counts, along with a consecutive five-year sentence for possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.Baker appealed his conviction, arguing that the evidence was insufficient, the trial court erred by failing to give a jury charge on impeachment for bias, and the trial court abused its discretion by admitting certain autopsy photos and a notebook found in his truck. His motion for a new trial was denied by the trial court, and the case was transferred to the Supreme Court of Georgia.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to support Baker's convictions, both as a matter of constitutional due process and Georgia statutory law. The court also concluded that the trial court did not plainly err in failing to give an instruction on impeachment for bias, and did not abuse its discretion in admitting the photos and notebook. The court held that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize the jury’s verdict on the malice murder counts. The court also found that Baker’s confession to his father was corroborated by various evidence, including the circumstances under which the victims were discovered and the various evidence of Baker’s consciousness of guilt. View "BAKER v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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The case involves Darious Jones, who was convicted for felony murder in 2016, related to the beating death of Faith Parke. Jones arranged to meet Parke at the location where she was found dead. His DNA and fingerprints were found at the crime scene, including on a doorstop bar near Parke's body. Parke had injuries matching the pattern on the end of the doorstop bar. Jones challenged his conviction, arguing that the evidence was constitutionally insufficient, that the trial court erred by allowing him to decide whether to testify without further inquiry due to his mental condition, and that the trial court erred in refusing to give voluntary manslaughter-related instructions that he requested.Jones was indicted for malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault by a DeKalb County grand jury in 2015. In 2016, the jury found him not guilty of malice murder but guilty of felony murder and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for felony murder. Jones filed a timely motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court in 2023. He then appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to uphold Jones' conviction. The court also ruled that Georgia law does not require a trial court to advise a defendant concerning his right to testify or to make the type of inquiry that Jones asserts the trial court should have made. The court further held that the trial court properly refused to give Jones' requested instructions regarding voluntary manslaughter because no evidence supported them. Lastly, the court dismissed Jones' argument that the trial court erred in sentencing him to life without parole. View "JONES v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the appellant, Justin Christopher Gold, who was convicted of malice murder in connection with the stabbing death of Antonio DePass. Gold was indicted for malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony. A jury found Gold guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for malice murder, plus a consecutive five years in prison for the weapon charge. Gold filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied, but his sentence was modified to life in prison with the possibility of parole.Gold appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in charging the jury on excessive force and that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to evidence of DePass’s good character or to a detective’s testimony about whether Gold’s conduct was consistent with an assertion of self-defense.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the trial court did not err in giving the suggested pattern jury instruction on excessive force as part of its broader instructions on self-defense. The court also found that Gold failed to show that his counsel’s performance was deficient and that such deficiency prejudiced his defense. Therefore, his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were dismissed. View "GOLD v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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Leslie Harris pleaded guilty to malice murder and other crimes related to the shooting death of Michael Anthony Davenport. She later moved to withdraw her guilty pleas, asserting that certain mental health issues had prevented her from entering a knowing and voluntary plea. The trial court denied her motion. Harris was indicted for malice murder, felony murder predicated on aggravated assault, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. She pleaded guilty to all counts except felony murder, which was nolle-prossed. Harris was sentenced to life in prison for malice murder, a concurrent life sentence for armed robbery, and a consecutive 5-year sentence for possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.The trial court denied Harris's motion to withdraw her guilty pleas. Harris timely filed a notice of appeal to the Court of Appeals, which was transferred to the Supreme Court of Georgia. The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the trial court's decision, finding that the record supports the trial court’s conclusion that Harris’s plea was knowing and voluntary.The Supreme Court of Georgia found that the trial court had considered Harris's mental-health diagnoses and treatment and her ability to communicate with counsel and the court to conclude that she understood the nature of the charges, rights she was waiving, and consequences of entering her plea. The court found that Harris's responses and those of plea counsel amply supported the court’s conclusion that Harris’s plea was knowing and voluntary. The court also found that the record contains no evidence that Harris's schedule of taking her medication affected her ability to enter a knowing and voluntary plea. The court concluded that the trial court did not err in determining that Harris entered her plea of her own free choice, with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences. The trial court therefore acted within its discretion when it denied Harris’s motion to withdraw her guilty pleas. The judgment was affirmed. View "HARRIS v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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Tyler Jarel Thomas was indicted for the murder of Ashley Brown in February 2014. Prior to his indictment, law enforcement obtained Thomas's phone records, including cell site location information (CSLI), through a court order. At the time, no appellate precedent in Georgia required a warrant for such records. However, Thomas moved to suppress the CSLI, arguing it was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court granted his motion, relying partly on an Eleventh Circuit decision that later reversed its stance on the necessity of a warrant for CSLI.The State asked the trial court to reconsider its suppression order in light of the Eleventh Circuit's reconsideration. Thomas argued that the end-of-term rule prohibited the trial court's reconsideration. The trial court agreed with Thomas, stating that the end-of-term rule divested it of the authority to reconsider its own prior interlocutory ruling. Thomas was found guilty of malice murder and related crimes, but a new trial was granted due to a Brady violation by the State.Upon remand to the trial court, the State again moved for reconsideration of the CSLI suppression order. This time, the trial court agreed with the State, vacated the earlier suppression order, and held that the CSLI could be tendered at trial. Thomas appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the trial court's decision. The court held that when a new trial has been granted, trial courts are not prohibited from reconsidering their previous orders. Therefore, because the final judgment in this case was vacated by the grant of a new trial, the trial court could reconsider rulings from earlier terms. View "THOMAS v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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Sherman Lamont Allen was convicted for the murder of his cousin, Treston Smith, following a physical altercation. Allen had suspected his partner, Tia, of having an affair with Smith. One night, Allen found Tia and Smith together at a gas station. After Tia drove away, Allen engaged in a verbal altercation with Smith, which escalated into a physical fight. Surveillance footage showed Allen beating and kicking Smith, who was on the ground. Smith later died from his injuries. Allen was indicted for one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of aggravated battery. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for malice murder.Allen appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his request to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter as a lesser offense of murder. He contended that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury instruction, as he had acted out of a sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation, namely, discovering Tia's infidelity with Smith.The Supreme Court of Georgia agreed with Allen. It held that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter. The court found that there was at least slight evidence to support the instruction, namely, Allen's discovery of Tia's infidelity. The court also found that the State failed to show that it was highly probable that the error did not contribute to the verdict. As a result, the court reversed Allen’s murder conviction. View "ALLEN v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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Isaac Taqai Howard was sentenced as a first offender to two concurrent fifteen-year sentences, with the first eighteen months in confinement and the balance served on probation. In November 2022, the State filed two petitions alleging that Howard violated the conditions of his probation. After a hearing, the trial court entered an adjudication of guilt on both petitions and resentenced Howard as a felon to fifteen years, with the first five years in confinement and the balance served on probation. Howard appealed, but the Court of Appeals dismissed his appeal for lack of jurisdiction because he failed to file an application for discretionary appeal.The Court of Appeals applied its decision from nearly 40 years ago in Dean v. State, which held that the revocation of a defendant’s first-offender probation was controlled by the discretionary appeal procedure in OCGA § 5-6-35. The court reasoned that OCGA § 5-6-35 (a) required a discretionary application for appeals from orders revoking probation, making no distinction between first-offender probation and probation otherwise provided for in criminal cases.The Supreme Court of Georgia granted certiorari to determine whether Howard had the right to a direct appeal under OCGA § 5-6-34 (a) or was instead required to file a discretionary application under OCGA § 5-6-35 (a). The court concluded that the entry of an adjudication of guilt and revocation of a defendant’s first-offender status is directly appealable. The court reasoned that the entry of an adjudication of guilt and sentence constitutes a final judgment and triggers the defendant’s right to an immediate appeal under OCGA § 5-6-34 (a) (1). The court further reasoned that an appeal in this context is not an appeal from an order revoking probation and thus does not require a discretionary application. Therefore, the court reversed the Court of Appeals’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "HOWARD v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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The case involves Christopher Vargas Zayas, who was convicted for malice murder and a related crime in connection with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Carly Andrews. The shooting occurred in September 2018, and Zayas was indicted for multiple charges, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, family violence, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and three counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Zayas was found guilty on all five counts and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. He filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court.Zayas appealed his convictions, arguing that the circumstantial evidence at trial was insufficient to exclude the alternative hypothesis that the pistol discharged accidentally as Andrews grabbed it. He also argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress statements he made to investigators at the police station before he received Miranda warnings. The Supreme Court of Georgia, however, affirmed the convictions, concluding that the circumstantial evidence authorized the jury to reject Zayas's alternative hypothesis as unreasonable, that trial counsel was not deficient for failing to seek to suppress Zayas's statements, and that Zayas suffered no prejudice from any instructional error. View "ZAYAS v. THE STATE" on Justia Law