Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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The Georgia Supreme Court granted review in this case to establish precedent on the issue of whether a trial court could refuse to follow appellate court precedent based solely on the trial court's disagreement with that precedent. The Supreme Court held that trial courts indeed were bound by the precedents of the Court of Appeals. Nevertheless, because the Supreme Court perceived no reason for this appeal to proceed on its merits beyond addressing that issue, it vacated its order granting the application for discretionary appeal, denied the application for discretionary appeal, and dismissed this appeal, thus leaving the trial court's judgment in this case undisturbed. View "Esposito v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jared Carter was convicted of malice murder and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony in connection with the death of his grandmother, 81-year-old Valeria Mann. On appeal, Appellant alleged that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his convictions, that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, and that the trial court improperly admitted hearsay testimony in violation of OCGA § 24-8-807 and the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Carter v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Tia Young was convicted by jury for the 2017 shooting death of her husband George. On appeal, Young contended: (1) the evidence was insufficient to sustain her convictions as a matter of constitutional due process; (2) that the trial court abused its discretion by denying her pretrial motion to sever her trial from the trial of her co-defendant, Harvey Lee; and (3) that the trial court erred by improperly charging the jury on the counts for criminal attempt to tamper with evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Young v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Darrell Eaker was convicted by jury of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the 2016 shooting death of Audra Eaker. On appeal, he argued: (1) he received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel; and (2) the trial court erred in denying Eaker’s motion for new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Eaker v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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In 2017, a jury found Damien McElrath guilty but mentally ill as to felony murder but not guilty by reason of insanity as to malice murder following a single, continuous encounter between McElrath and his mother, Diane McElrath. The trial court did not recognize the verdicts as repugnant and accepted them. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the verdicts were repugnant, and vacated the verdicts and remanded McElrath’s case for retrial. On remand, McElrath filed a plea in bar, alleging that retrial was precluded on double jeopardy grounds, and the trial court denied this motion. Appealing the double jeopardy motion, McElrath argued that the Georgia Supreme Court should have reversed rather than vacated his felony murder conviction in his previous appeal. He also challenged the trial court’s ruling on his plea in bar, contending that retrial on all of the counts was barred because the jury previously found him not guilty by reason of insanity on the malice murder count. The Supreme Court determined both these arguments failed and affirmed the trial court’s denial of McElrath’s plea in bar. View "McElrath v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Mia Ammons was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. She largely refused to cooperate when the state trooper who pulled her over sought to perform a preliminary breath test and various field sobriety tests, and she later refused to consent to a blood test for which no search warrant had been obtained by the police. She claimed that any use of evidence of her refusal to perform the breath and field sobriety tests violated her right against self-incrimination under the Georgia Constitution. She similarly argued that two Georgia statutes that permitted evidence of her refusal to consent to a blood test to be used against her "violate the General Assembly’s constitutional duty to enact laws that protect Georgia citizens in the full enjoyment of their rights, privileges, and immunities as citizens." The Georgia Supreme Court found Ammons had the right to refuse to perform the preliminary breath test and the field sobriety tests under the Georgia Constitution, and evidence of her refusals could not be introduced at her trial. The Court also determined that the Georgia Constitution’s privileges and immunities clause did not bar the admission of evidence that she refused to consent to a blood test. The Court therefore affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court’s denial of Ammons’s motion to suppress. View "Ammons v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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William Winslow was convicted on four counts of sexual exploitation of children in connection with his possession of two videos depicting children engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The videos were found on his laptop computer by law enforcement. On appeal, Winslow: (1) argued the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a search of his laptop; (2) made facial and as-applied challenges to the sentencing scheme of OCGA § 16-12-100 (f) (1); and (3) contended the trial court erred by failing to merge all counts of the indictment together for sentencing under Edvalson v. Georgia, 849 SE2d 204 (2020). After review, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Winslow's convictions, but vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing: the trial court should have sentenced Winslow on only one count and merged the remaining counts for sentencing. View "Winslow v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Deon Jones challenged his convictions for felony murder and influencing a witness in connection with the 2004 shooting death of Scott Corwin. He contended that the statute of limitation barred his prosecution for influencing a witness; that the trial court made several erroneous evidentiary rulings; that he was denied effective assistance of counsel; and that the combined effect of the trial court’s multiple erroneous evidentiary rulings and his trial counsel’s deficient performance deprived him of a fair trial. The indictment alleged that on or about June 1, 2004, Appellant knowingly threatened a witness with the intent to prevent her from communicating to a Georgia law enforcement officer information relating to the commission of a crime, i.e., the shooting of Corwin. The State had until June 1, 2011, to indict Appellant for influencing a witness. But the State did not indict Appellant until December 27, 2017. Thus, the statute of limitation expired more than six years before the State started its prosecution of Appellant for that offense. Contrary to the trial court’s understanding, the Georgia Supreme Court's decision in Riley v. Georgia, 824 SE2d 249 (2019), the witness here knew about the crime the moment it was committed, so her knowledge is imputed to the State. Thus, OCGA § 17-3-2 (2) did not toll the statute of limitation. The Supreme Court reversed Appellant’s conviction and sentence for influencing a witness, but it otherwise affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Jones v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Melvin Roberts was convicted of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the 2016 shooting death of Jabari Pettway. On appeal, Roberts argued the trial court erred in admitting evidence of an armed robbery he allegedly committed nine days before the murder. That evidence included a shell casing that testing showed was discharged from the same gun as casings from Pettway’s murder, as well as testimony from the armed-robbery victim identifying Roberts as the one who possessed, shot, and left with the gun. The trial court admitted all of the armed-robbery evidence under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b) for the purpose of proving Roberts’s identity as the murderer. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed on a different legal basis: the limited evidence was not subject to Rule 404 (b) because it was admissible as evidence intrinsic to the charged crime. "The same cannot be said for the armed-robbery evidence as a whole, but any error in admitting evidence of the robbery beyond the intrinsic portion was harmless, because the evidence against Roberts that was properly admitted was quite strong, and the court’s limiting instruction about the armed-robbery evidence mitigated the chance that the jury considered the extraneous details of the robbery." View "Roberts v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Victor Moten was convicted of malice murder and related offenses in connection with the 2015 shooting death of Juan Diaz Mendez. On appeal, Moten contended the trial court erred by refusing to allow him to amend his motion for new trial to add a timely claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. To this, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed, vacated the trial court’s order denying Moten’s motion for new trial, and remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Moten v. Georgia" on Justia Law