Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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Johnathan Ellison was convicted of malice murder for the stabbing death of Antwane Hyatte. Ellison appealed, arguing the trial court erred in admitting DNA evidence obtained from a buccal swab performed on him without a warrant while he was in custody. He argued that the admission of that evidence violated his constitutional rights because he did not knowingly and voluntarily consent to the buccal swab, and he was not given any Miranda-type warning. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the DNA evidence obtained from Ellison’s buccal swab did not match any of the DNA found at the crime scene or inculpate him in any other way, thus its admission was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court therefore affirmed. View "Ellison v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Upon retrial, appellant Ronald Fisher was found guilty of malice murder and related crimes in connection with the shooting death of Derek Cullins. In this appeal, Fisher contended the evidence presented at his retrial was insufficient to support his convictions because the only witness to identify him as the shooter, David Lewis, was an accomplice. Further, Fisher argued the trial court erred by allowing the lead detective to testify that Lewis was not an accomplice, and that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the prosecutor’s closing argument. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Fisher v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Desean Subar was convicted by jury of various offenses, including malice murder, in connection with crimes he committed against Justin Bryant, Bettie Stoddart, and Gary Kimber at a 2016 house party. Subar appealed, arguing he was denied constitutionally effective assistance of counsel and that the trial court erred by admitting improper character evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Subar's convictions. View "Subar v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Khaleil Barton-Smith was tried by jury and convicted of murder and other crimes in connection with the 2014 fatal shooting of Alexander Hunter. Barton-Smith appealed, contending that the trial court erred when it denied his request to charge the jury on voluntary manslaughter as a lesser offense and when it interrupted his lawyer’s cross-examination of a witness. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Barton-Smith v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Chiquita Snipes was convicted of the malice murder of Ty’Qwan Edge, a two-year-old child in her care. She appealed her conviction, arguing: the trial court erred in denying her motion for a new trial; the evidence presented against her was insufficient to sustain her conviction; and her trial counsel rendered insufficient assistance. When 911 was called, Snipes testified she heard "a loud bump," allegedly from the child falling from the toilet and striking his head on the bathtub. The medical examiner opined at trial that the injuries to the child were not consistent with a single fall in a bathroom, and that there was no indication of natural disease. An internal examination revealed ten areas of hemorrhaging under the child's scalp, some older and some recent. His brain was significantly swollen with minor areas of bleeding on the surface and other denser areas of bleeding and blood clots. There was also hemorrhaging in and around the optic nerves of both eyes, indicating severe trauma to the head. The Georgia Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, and affirmed Snipes' conviction. View "Snipes v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Michael Russell was convicted of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the death of his girlfriend, Christy Waller. Russell argued on appeal: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his statements to police; (2) the trial court erred in failing to properly instruct the jury in its preliminary jury charge; (3) he received constitutionally ineffective assistance of trial counsel when his counsel failed to object to that charge; and (4) the trial court erred in failing to merge his remaining aggravated assault conviction under Count 4 into his conviction for malice murder. Russell also noted his sentence contained a scrivener’s error, sentencing him under Count 5 for aggravated assault, when he was actually charged with aggravated battery. Although the Georgia Supreme Court agreed that the trial court committed sentencing errors and accordingly vacated Russell’s sentence under Count 4 and remanded for correction of the scrivener’s error in Count 5, the Supreme Court otherwise affirmed. View "Russell v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Jonathan Scott appealed his convictions for malice murder and other offenses in relation to the 2016 shooting death of Gerald Daniels. Daniels sold drugs out of his apartment; Scott, a convicted felon, also lived in the same apartment complex. Scott went to Daniels’s apartment and purchased 3.5 grams of marijuana. Scott returned sometime later, complaining that Daniels had shorted him on the weight. Scott asked for more marijuana to make up for the alleged shortage on weight, and Daniels agreed. Daniels wrapped the marijuana in two small sacks and handed Scott the sacks along with some money. Scott dropped one of the sacks and asked Daniels to pick it up. When Daniels bent down to pick up the sack, Scott pulled out a gun; seconds later, Scott shot Daniels multiple times. Scott argued on appeal the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions and that there was a fatal variance between the indictment charging him with attempt to purchase marijuana and the evidence presented at trial. Scott also argued his trial counsel was ineffective. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed because it found the trial evidence was sufficient to establish Scott’s guilt, and Scott did not establish that he was affected by any variance or that his trial counsel was ineffective. View "Scott v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Patrick Butler challenged his 2011 convictions for malice murder and two firearms offenses in connection with the shooting death of Darryl Walden. Appellant argued on appeal: (1) that the evidence presented at trial was legally insufficient to support his convictions; (2) the trial court made several evidentiary errors, and (3) that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court determined the evidence presented at trial was legally sufficient to support his convictions. However, the trial court applied the wrong standard in admitting evidence of Appellant’s 2005 felony conviction for obstructing a law enforcement officer during the first stage of the bifurcated trial, and the Supreme Court could not say that the admission of the evidence was harmless. Accordingly, the Court vacated Appellant’s convictions, and remanded the case to the trial court to apply the correct standard and determine whether the prior felony conviction should have been admitted. The Court did not address Appellant’s other enumerations of error at this time. View "Butler v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Appellant Richard “Paul” Harrison was tried on charges of murder and felony murder in connection with the shooting death of Dewey Johnson, but the trial ended in a mistrial when the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Appellant was retried in 2011 before another jury and found guilty of murder and felony murder. He was sentenced to life in prison; his amended motion for new trial was denied, and he appealed. Appellant asserted five enumerations of error: four claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and a merger error in sentencing. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction and sentence on the malice murder count. The felony murder conviction and sentence the trial court erroneously imposed and then purported to “merge” with the malice murder conviction were vacated as a matter of law. View "Harrison v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Vraimone Parker appealed his convictions for malice murder and other offenses, following the shooting death of his aunt’s boyfriend, Kwame Chubbs, and the non-fatal shooting of his aunt, Eva Robinson. At trial, the jury rejected Parker’s defense that he was not guilty by reason of insanity and also rejected the option of finding him guilty but mentally ill. Parker argued on appeal that: (1) the trial court erred by failing to grant a mistrial after a detective commented on Parker’s silence; (2) failing to grant a mistrial after the trial court’s own expert witness testified that Parker knew what he was doing at the time of the shooting; and (3) imposing a discovery sanction that precluded Parker’s expert witness from offering particular testimony. He also argued his trial counsel was ineffective in handling issues related to Parker’s status as a convicted felon. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motions for mistrial; Parker did not show harmful error as a result of the discovery sanction; and Parker did not demonstrate that he was prejudiced by any deficient performance of counsel, even where counsel’s performance was considered along with the effect of the discovery sanction. View "Parker v. Georgia" on Justia Law