Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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In 2013, Appellant De’Marquise Elkins was convicted of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting death of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago and the shooting of the baby’s mother, Sherry West, as well as the shooting ten days earlier of Pastor Wilfredo Calix-Flores behind his church. The trial court sentenced Appellant, who was 17 years old at the time of the crimes, to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) for the baby’s murder and consecutive terms of years for all but one of his other convictions. Appellant argued on appeal, among other things, that the trial court violated his constitutional rights by preventing him from showing that someone else committed the crimes; that he was deprived of a fair trial and the presumption of innocence when the jury heard that he had a juvenile criminal record; and that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the evidence presented at trial was legally sufficient to support Appellant’s convictions; the trial court did not violate Appellant’s constitutional rights by preventing him from showing that someone else committed the crimes; he was not deprived of a fair trial or the presumption of innocence by a fleeting reference at trial to a “criminal juvenile report;” and his claims of ineffective assistance related to his trial counsel were waived. One claim of ineffective assistance, which related to his motion-for-new-trial counsel, was not waived, however, and the Court remanded for an evidentiary hearing and findings of fact on that claim. View "Elkins v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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The State the dismissal of an indictment against Dannie Albert Mondor, who cross-appealed. The indictment charged Mondor with homicide by vehicle in the first degree predicated on a hit-and-run offense (Count 1), and hit and run. Mondor filed demurrers to the indictment, as well as a motion to present evidence that Bradley Braland, who died as a result of the accident set forth in the indictment, was not wearing his seatbelt. The trial court dismissed the indictment because it was not “perfect in form and substance,” concluding that the hit-and-run count (Count 2) did not allege the essential element of mens rea. In the same motion, the trial court denied Mondor’s motion to present seatbelt-use evidence, declining to “find an exception” to the well-established “bar against seatbelt use evidence” under OCGA 40-8-76.1. Finally, the trial court also declined Mondor’s request related to his claims of unconstitutional vagueness to “declare an exact definition of the word ‘cause’ as used in OCGA 40-6-393.” The Georgia Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the indictment in Case Number S19A0209, and affirmed the exclusion of seatbelt-use evidence in Case Number S19X0210 for reasons different from those that the trial court gave. View "Georgia v. Mondor" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Bourassa was convicted of possessing more than one ounce of marijuana, conspiracy to commit that crime, and for violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) by using a telephone to arrange for the purchase of more than one ounce of marijuana from coindictee German Beltran. The evidence supporting these convictions was obtained during a police investigation of Beltran and others that included extensive surveillance and investigation warrants that authorized the interception of electronic and oral communications for several phone numbers, including Beltran’s. Neither Bourassa’s phone number nor any phone number allegedly used by him was listed as a target in the investigation warrants, and Bourassa’s phone number was not known to be associated with any of the phone numbers listed in the investigation warrants as targets. However, the following evidence uncovered in the course of the investigation led police to Bourassa. Bourassa moved to suppress the intercepted communications, arguing (among other things) that the investigation warrants that resulted in the interception of his phone conversations and text messages violated the laws of Georgia and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Bourassa did not testify at the hearing on the motion to suppress or stipulate that he was a party to those conversations and messages, and the State argued that he failed to prove standing. At the suppression hearing, the investigation warrants - including the applications and supporting affidavits—were admitted, and the affiant and sole witness, Sgt. Randy Folsom of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed that neither Bourassa nor any phone number associated with him was specified as a target in the warrants. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erroneously concluded that Bourassa had to present his own evidence to prove standing and that circumstantial evidence could not suffice to meet that burden. As a result, the Court of Appeals did not properly evaluate Bourassa’s arguments about the evidentiary value of Sgt. Folsom’s testimony. Moreover, because the trial court did not make findings or credibility determinations about Sgt. Folsom’s testimony, the Court of Appeals had nothing to review on appeal in that regard. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to that court with direction to remand the case to the trial court for appropriate consideration of the evidence related to standing. View "Bourassa v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Mahemood Budhani was convicted of possessing and selling XLR11, a Schedule I Controlled Substance. Budhani appealed his convictions to the Court of Appeals, claiming (among other things) that the indictment was void and that his statements to police were involuntary and therefore should not have been admitted at trial. The Court of Appeals rejected Budhani’s claims and affirmed his convictions. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the indictment was not fatally defective; and (2) whether a promise of no additional charges constitutes a “slightest hope of benefit” under OCGA 24-8-824. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s outcome, but on different grounds. Specifically, the Court held”: (1) Budhani’s indictment was not void; and (2) a promise made by law enforcement to bring no additional charges against a defendant did not constitute the “slightest hope of benefit” under OCGA 24-8-824, although such a promise may not always render a subsequent confession inadmissible. Furthermore, the Court concluded that although investigators’ promises of no additional charges during Budhani’s recorded, custodial interview constituted a hope of benefit under OCGA 24-8-824, any error the trial court made by admitting the portions of Budhani’s interview after investigators’ promises of no additional charges was harmless based on this record in this case. View "Budhani v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Torico Jackson appealed his convictions for malice murder and related offenses in connection with the 2004 stabbing death of John Ray. On appeal, Jackson claimed the trial court erred: (1) by failing to instruct the jury on the applicable statute of limitation for the relevant non-murder offenses; (2) by admitting certain police reports; and (3) by denying his motion for a mistrial. Jackson also argued trial counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance in a number of ways. Although the Georgia Supreme Court found no reversible error with respect to Jackson’s convictions, the Court determined he was improperly sentenced. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, vacated the sentence, and remanded for resentencing. View "Jackson v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Davious Taylor appealed his convictions for murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime arising out of the 2009 shooting death of Onterio Perez Dorsey. On appeal, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against him at trial, and argued the trial court erred in admitting extrinsic act evidence under OCGA 24-4-404 (b). Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed conviction. View "Taylor v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Donald Bannister was convicted of felony murder and a firearm offense in connection with the shooting death of Anthony Johnson, Jr. On appeal, he argued: (1) the weight of the evidence presented at his trial was strongly against the verdicts; (2) his trial counsel was ineffective in withdrawing a request for jury instructions on voluntary manslaughter and mutual combat; and (3) the trial court erred by denying a mistrial and giving an improper Allen charge after the jury indicated that it was deadlocked, by holding that he had not made a prima facie showing supporting his Batson challenge, and by admitting two recordings of phone calls made from jail. The Georgia Supreme Court found no reversible error, and affirmed judgment. View "Bannister v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Ruiz Suchiapa Venturino was convicted of felony murder and other crimes in connection with the 2013 shooting death of Marcos Cruz. On appeal, Venturino contended the trial court erred in several way, principal among them, regarding the admission of certain evidence, and in failing to rebuke the prosecutor when she misstated the law regarding voluntary manslaughter during closing argument. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed conviction. View "Venturino v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Charles Fleming was tried and convicted of murder and related offenses in connection with the crimes he committed against Lamonte Corbin and Tracy Skrine. Skrine told officers he believed that Fleming had brought three unknown men to her house because Fleming thought Skrine and Corbin were withholding information regarding who shot Fleming’s brother. Howard Archer, who was sitting in his car at this time, saw Fleming and the unknown men make hand signals and perform handshakes associated with a street gang. Fleming approached Archer and asked if he had a gun, to which Archer replied, “no.” When Hampton told the group of men that Skrine was not at home, Fleming decided to remain outside by the carport while his companions went inside the house. Skrine returned home later with his girlfriend, Brittni Chatman, and Corbin. The three walked through the carport and into the house. Archer also went inside. There, he saw Skrine counting money while in the living room with the three unknown men who had arrived with Fleming. At this time, one of the men flashed a gun at Archer, leading him to believe that a drug deal was underway. Then Fleming came inside the house, gave the unknown men a “look,” and walked back out to the car. Soon after, the men approached Corbin and Skrine, brandished their guns, and began shooting. Then they fled the house, got into a running car where Fleming was waiting, and drove away. After the shooting, Corbin was found lying unresponsive on the floor of the kitchen. Skrine was hiding in his bedroom and had suffered a gunshot wound to his left buttock. Archer and another called the police, but Corbin had died by the time they arrived. Fleming appealed his ultimate conviction, alleging that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, that the trial court erred by improperly admitting certain evidence at trial, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Fleming v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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This case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review an issue of first impression: the effects of the General Assembly’s wholesale revision in 2016 of the anti-SLAPP statute, OCGA 9-11-11.1, which substantially mirrored California Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. LTC Consulting, L.P. and two affiliated entities sued law firm Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. and one of its attorneys for violations of OCGA 31-7-3.2 (j), deceptive trade practices, and false advertising after the defendants ran full-page advertisements in local newspapers targeting patients of nursing homes owned by the plaintiffs. The defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or to Strike Pursuant to OCGA sections 9-11-11.1 and 9-11-12 (b) (6), arguing among other things that OCGA 31-7-3.2 (j), enacted in 2015, violated the First Amendment. The motion was filed the day before a previously scheduled injunction hearing, but the trial court considered the defendants’ motion and denied it. The defendants appealed to the Court of Appeals, which transferred the case to the Georgia Supreme Court. The Supreme Court concluded the defendants met their burden under OCGA 9-11-11.1 to show that the plaintiffs’ claims were ones arising from acts that could reasonably be construed as acts in furtherance of the defendants’ right of free speech under the United States Constitution in connection with an issue of public interest or concern, thereby triggering the application of OCGA 9-11-11.1. The burden then shifted to the plaintiffs to establish that there was a probability that they would prevail on their claims. However, in analyzing these claims, the parties did not argue, and the trial court did not properly apply, the new standards for anti-SLAPP motions. Judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for reconsideration of the anti-SLAPP motion under the proper standards. View "Wilkes & McHugh, P.A., v. LTC Consulting, L.P. et al." on Justia Law