Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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Tia Marie Dos Santos entered negotiated guilty pleas in 2018 to felony murder and other crimes. In the same term of court, she filed a pro se motion to withdraw her guilty pleas. The trial court denied the motion as meritless, and Dos Santos timely appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. Pursuant to White v. Georgia, 806 SE2d 489 (2017), the trial court should have dismissed Dos Santos’s pro se motion as a legal nullity, because she was still represented by her plea counsel when she filed the motion. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case with direction to dismiss the motion to withdraw guilty pleas as inoperative. The Court also recognized, as it did not in White and some other cases, that had the trial court properly dismissed the motion, the Supreme Court would properly dismiss a subsequent appeal from that judgment, rather than affirming the judgment. The Court emphasized how important it was for criminal defense lawyers not to abandon their clients immediately after a guilty plea, and discussed how to deal with some of the practical issues that may arise from the holdings in White that were reiterated in this case. View "Dos Santos v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Frank Causey was convicted of malice murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole in relation to the fatal strangulation and drowning of Lydia Ivanditti. Causey alleged the evidence was insufficient to convict him because there was no evidence placing him at Ivanditti’s home at the time of her death. Furthermore, Causey alleged the trial court erred when it admitted custodial statements he made after he allegedly invoked his right to remain silent. Finding no reversible error as to either of Causey’s contentions, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed his convictions. View "Causey v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Tyron Henry was tried by jury in 2016 and acquitted of malice murder, but found guilty of felony murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony in connection with the death of Michael Johnson. His amended motion for new trial was denied, and he appealed, asserting as his sole enumeration of error the trial court’s refusal to give his requested jury instructions on the affirmative defense of justification. In light of its recent decision in McClure v. Georgia, (Case No. S18G1599, decided Oct. 7, 2019), the Georgia Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in refusing to give the requested instructions on justification by self-defense or the defense of others. Because the Court could not say it was highly probable that this error did not contribute to the jury’s verdicts, it reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Henry v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Sidney McKinney was convicted of malice murder for killing his former girlfriend Deborah Thigpen by beating and strangling her. On appeal, he argued the trial court erred by admitting his conviction for a battery against Thigpen committed three months before the murder as well as evidence of his attack on another former girlfriend 15 years earlier. Appellant also argued his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the prosecutor’s statements in closing argument that Appellant had previously raped Thigpen. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed McKinney’s conviction. View "McKinney v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Roderick Thornton was convicted of malice murder and a firearm offense in connection with the 2014 shooting death of Jonathan Brady. On appeal, Thornton contended the trial court erred by improperly instructing the jury on aggravated assault and by failing to instruct on a witness’s motives in testifying and on accomplice corroboration. He also contended his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by not objecting to the trial court’s failure to give those charges and by eliciting certain testimony during his cross-examination of the lead detective on the case. Finding no merit to any of these claims, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Thornton v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Kenneth Powell was tried by jury and convicted of malice murder in the shooting death of Lionel Turner. Appellant contended the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction, the trial court erred in instructing the jury, and that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. Finding no merit to any of these claims, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Powell v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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In February 2010, there was a fight at a nightclub in Albany, Georgia, followed by a shooting in a nearby parking lot. A patron of the club, LeSheldon Stanford, was killed in the shooting, and a security guard for the club, George Ferguson, was wounded. Three years later, Shanard Smith, Anthony Hawkins, and Shuntavious Seay were tried together on charges arising from the fight and the shooting, and a jury found them guilty of murder and other crimes. They appealed. With respect to Smith, the Georgia Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirm his convictions. As to Hawkins and Seay, the Court affirmed their convictions for aggravated assault, which were based on their participation in the fight inside the club. The Court reversed, however, their convictions for murder because the evidence at trial was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were parties to the shooting in the parking lot outside the club. View "Smith v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Leonardo Anderson was convicted of felony murder, aggravated assault, and a firearm offense in connection with the 2014 shooting death of Arkeen Abron and the non-fatal shooting of Showkey Barnes. Appellant argued the trial court erred by admitting into evidence lead detective Jonathan Puhala’s video-recorded interview of Appellant’s girlfriend and failing to grant a mistrial after one of her statements in the interview was played for the jury; by excluding evidence of Barnes’s more-than-ten-year-old criminal convictions under OCGA 24-6-609 (b); by excluding evidence of a firearm found at the house where Abron and Barnes’s associate James Walker was staying; by allowing Detective Puhala to stay in the courtroom during the trial; and by declining to give a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter. Having reviewed the record and briefs, the Georgia Supreme Court found no reversible error, and affirmed. View "Anderson v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Abdullahi Mohamed was convicted of malice murder in connection with the stabbing death of fellow inmate Johnny Lee Johnson. Following the trial court’s denial of his motion for new trial, Mohamed appealed, contending that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction, the trial court erred in several instances, and that trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective The Georgia Supreme Court found evidence was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Mohamed guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime of which he was convicted, and, accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying Mohamed’s motion for a directed verdict of acquittal. Furthermore, the Court determined Mohamed’s contention the trial court erred with respect to the admission of certain evidence and in its conduct of proceedings, had no merit. The Court found no ineffective assistance of trial counsel. View "Mohamed v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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A grand jury indicted Cordalero Collier in 2008 for a number of offenses, including murder. Months later, with the assistance of counsel, Collier entered a negotiated guilty plea to felony murder and the trial court entered an order of nolle prosequi on the remaining counts. Following the plea hearing, the court sentenced Collier to serve life in prison. Ten years later in 2018, Collier filed a pro se motion for an out-of-time appeal, contending, inter alia, that his plea counsel was ineffective for failing to inform him of his right to an appeal. Collier contended that immediately after the superior court sentenced him and explained his right to appeal, he “informed his counsel that he wanted to withdraw his plea and file an appeal of his conviction.” The trial court, after reviewing “the record and applicable law,” summarily denied Collier’s motion. Review of Collier’s case lead the Georgia Supreme Court to reverse a long line of cases with respect to out-of-time appeals. The Court also overruled a “peculiar line of cases” where a criminal defendant’s right to appeal directly from a judgment entered on a guilty plea was qualified in scope. Because the trial court denied Collier’s motion for an out-of-time appeal without holding an evidentiary hearing, the Supreme Court could not determine from the appellate record whether Collier’s failure to timely pursue an appeal was actually the result of his counsel’s deficient performance. Moreover, it recognized that, given the clear, though incorrect, mandate of the case law overruled by this opinion, Collier did not have a full and fair opportunity to pursue his motion for an out-of-time appeal before the trial court, the State did not have a full and fair opportunity to raise defenses, and the trial court did not have the benefit of this opinion to guide its consideration of the parties’ evidence and arguments. Therefore, the previous order in this case was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Collier v. Georgia" on Justia Law