Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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In 2005, Appellant Contresstis Tolbert and his co-defendant Jeremy Butts were found guilty of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the 2001 shooting death of Robert Funderburk. Appellant contended the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress his post-arrest statements to the police and by admitting “similar transaction” evidence. Finding those claims meritless, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Tolbert v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Charles Kilpatrick, Jr. appeals his convictions related to the shooting death of Joseph Wilder. In 1998, appellant and Wilder were driving westbound on I-20 in their respective vehicles. Appellant’s friend, Marcuss Herndon, was a passenger in appellant’s vehicle. Witnesses testified that appellant’s and Wilder’s vehicles were bumping into each other on the highway. The two vehicles ultimately ended up stopped in the emergency lane with Wilder’s vehicle, which was a maroon SUV, parked behind appellant’s vehicle, which was a dark-colored truck. Witnesses stated they saw appellant, who was positioned behind the back of his truck and in front of Wilder’s forward-facing SUV, point a gun at and fire it several times into Wilder’s vehicle, all while calmly walking backwards towards his truck. Herndon, who remained in the passenger seat of appellant’s vehicle, testified that he heard gunshots, but that he did not actually see the shooting. Immediately after his arrest, appellant told police he shot Wilder in self-defense. On appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented at trial, contending the State failed to meet its burden of disproving his defense of justification. He also argued the trial court made multiple errors, including excluding his expert witness, and excluding evidence that Wilder was a member of a motorcycle gang. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed appellant’s conviction. View "Kilpatrick v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Cornelius Edwards challenged his 2018 convictions for felony murder and other crimes in connection with an attempted armed robbery of Delvin Phillips and Marvin Goodman that resulted in the shooting death of Appellant’s accomplice, Billy Favors. Appellant contended: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions and that the trial court failed to fulfill its role as the so-called “thirteenth juror;” (2) the trial court abused its discretion in admitting a recording of a recording of a telephone call; and (3) the trial court committed reversible error in admitting other acts evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Edwards v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Clark Hyden was convicted by jury of malice murder, felony murder, kidnapping with bodily injury, and various other offenses in connection with the beating death of Tommy Crabb, Sr. On appeal, Hyden contended: the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his kidnapping conviction under the standard set forth in Garza v. Georgia, 670 SE2d 73 (2008); that the trial court erred by allowing the State to waive its initial closing argument; that Hyden was denied his right to a speedy appeal; and that Hyden’s trial counsel was ineffective. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hyden v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Fernando Hogan appealed his convictions for malice murder and other crimes stemming from the shooting death of Kilon Williams and the aggravated assault of Williams’s friend, Nicholas Gibson. On appeal, Hogan contended only that the trial court erred by granting the State’s challenge to Hogan’s peremptory strikes of three prospective jurors and reseating those jurors. Upon review of the record, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded Hogan’s conviction and sentence for the aggravated assault of Gibson should have been merged, and so it vacated that conviction and sentence. Finding no other reversible error, the Court otherwise affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Hogan v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Albert and Ashley Debelbot were tried by jury and convicted of the murder of their infant daughter, McKenzy. Following the denial of their motions for new trial, the Debelbots appealed, asserting, among other claims of error that the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain their convictions and that they were denied the effective assistance of counsel. In Debelbot v. Georgia, 826 SE2d 129 (2019) (“Debelbot I”), the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in part, concluding that the evidence was legally sufficient to sustain the convictions, although it noted that the sufficiency of the evidence was a “close question.” The Court also, however, vacated in part the denial of the motions for new trial and remanded for further consideration of the claims that the Debelbots were denied the effective assistance of counsel. The trial court again rejected the claims of ineffective assistance and denied the motions for new trial. The Debelbots appealed for a second time, and this time, the Supreme Court reversed, “[t]he Debelbots have shown a reasonable probability that, but for the failure of their lawyers to object during closing argument to the gross misstatement of the law by the prosecuting attorney, the outcome of their trial would have been different.” View "Debelbot v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Frederick Johnson, Jr. was charged with murder and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felony first-offender probationer, both in connection with the 2016 fatal shooting of Tyrell Jordan. Johnson contended he shot Jordan in self-defense, and that the shooting was a justified use of force in defense of self under OCGA 16-3-21 (a). But because Johnson was a felony first-offender probationer generally forbidden to possess a firearm, the State argued he was categorically barred by OCGA 16-3-21 (b) (2) from claiming that the shooting was a justified use of force in defense of self. The State filed a motion in limine to bar Johnson from asserting his theory of justification at trial, and pursuant to OCGA 16-3- 24.2, Johnson moved for pretrial immunity from prosecution for murder based on the same theory. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted the motion in limine and denied the motion for immunity, concluding as a matter of law that Johnson could not claim the shooting was a justified use of force in defense of self. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed, finding that “[b]y its own terms, OCGA § 16-3-21 provides a justification defense, but only for crimes that involve ‘threatening or using force.’ It offers no defense at all for crimes that merely consist of possessing or carrying a firearm.” Here, if Johnson’s possession of a firearm at the time of the shooting was justified under the rule of law produced by the combination of OCGA sections 16-3-21 and 16-11-138, then it could not be said that Johnson was “committing . . . a felony” when he shot Jordan, and the preclusive bar of OCGA 16-3-21 (b) (2) would not apply. Accordingly, the trial court erred when it denied the motion for immunity and granted the motion in limine upon the rationale that it employed. View "Johnson v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Thanquarius Calhoun was convicted of felony murder and various misdemeanors in connection with the death of Marion Shore. On appeal, Calhoun argued his trial counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance. After its review of the transcribed record of proceedings, the Georgia Supreme Court found no such ineffective assistance and affirmed Calhoun’s convictions. View "Calhoun v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Nathaniel Wilkins was convicted of two counts of malice murder in connection with the shooting deaths of Forrest Ison and Alice Stevens. He appealed, arguing: (1) the trial court erred by admitting into evidence an alleged adoptive admission and by denying three motions for a mistrial; and (2) his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by not objecting when the trial court gave an inapplicable jury instruction about accomplice corroboration and defined aggravated assault three times. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wilkins v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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In 2017, a jury found Damian McElrath guilty but mentally ill of the felony murder and aggravated assault of his adoptive mother, Diane, whom McElrath killed by stabbing over 50 times in a single episode. Based on the same episode, McElrath was also found not guilty of the malice murder of Diane by reason of insanity. McElrath appealed, contending among other things that the jury’s verdicts were repugnant and that his conviction for felony murder had to be reversed or vacated. McElrath also appealed the trial court’s separate order that, upon his discharge from evaluation at a state mental health facility, he should be placed in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Under the specific facts of this case, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that McElrath’s verdicts were indeed repugnant. Accordingly, the Court vacated both verdicts and remanded McElrath’s case for a new trial. The Supreme Court also vacated the trial court’s order placing McElrath in the Department of Corrections’s custody pursuant to the verdicts which now vacated. View "McElrath v. Georgia" on Justia Law