Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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After Christina and Marshall Wellington were unable to pay a drug debt, Otis Hill shot them. Christina died; Marshall survived, but lost an eye. Hill and Aviance Marshall (“Aviance”), who drove Hill and the Wellingtons to the location of the shooting, were charged with malice murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and related offenses. Hill was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Christina, kidnapping, battering, and attempting to murder Marshall, and a weapons charge. On appeal, Hill contended the evidence was insufficient as to kidnapping. In addition, Hill argued the trial court erred: in using a deficient master jury list; in failing to determine whether a juror was proficient in English; in instructing the jury regarding note taking; in admitting evidence of cell site location information, the effects of cocaine on memory, and witness intimidation; in excluding evidence of the maximum penalty Aviance faced; in instructing the jury regarding the reasonable-doubt standard; and in denying his motion for a new trial on the general grounds. Hill also claimed he received ineffective assistance of counsel. But for an error in sentencing, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Hill's convictions. The matter was remanded for correction in sentence: because there was no evidence that Hill committed aggravated battery in the manner alleged independent of the act which was intended to cause Marshall’s death, the count of aggravated battery merged with the conviction for attempted murder for sentencing purposes. View "Hill v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Dakota Swann challenged his 2014 convictions for murder and other crimes in connection with the 2008 shooting death of Shannon Williams. Appellant argued trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to fully investigate an earlier shooting incident involving Appellant or to utilize it at trial and for not discussing the parole implications of the State’s plea offer. After review of the trial court record, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed with Appellant's contentions and affirmed his convictions. View "Swann v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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David Sharpe was convicted by jury of felony murder and other related crimes in connection with the 2016 shooting death of Devonte Coney. On appeal. Sharpe argued he received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to object to the testimony of a GBI special agent and failed to poll the jury. The Georgia Supreme Court did not find Sharpe received ineffective assistance of counsel, however, the Court did find the evidence legally insufficient to sustain Sharpe's conviction for theft by receiving stolen property. "Although the State produced evidence that the gun had been stolen approximately ten months prior to the shooting and that Sharpe was in possession of it shortly after the shooting, the State offered no other evidence relevant to this count. Specifically, there is no evidence from which the jury could infer that Sharpe knew or should have known that the gun was stolen." This conviction was reversed; judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Sharpe v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Jerry NeSmith earned enough support to be placed on the ballot for the office of district commissioner for the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government. NeSmith died just three days before Election Day. In addition to the personal loss of his family and friends, NeSmith’s death before Election Day ultimately resulted in an electoral loss for his supporters, a number of whom joined to bring suit in superior court challenging the results of the election. The Georgia Supreme Court found that because the applicable Georgia statutes dictated that votes cast on paper ballots for a candidate who died before Election Day were void, none of the votes cast for NeSmith had legal effect. Therefore, the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections properly applied Georgia law by voiding votes cast for NeSmith and declaring Jesse Houle the commissioner-elect for Athens-Clarke County Commission. The superior court order dismissing appellants' election challenge was affirmed. View "Rhoden, et al. v. Athens-Clarke County Bd. of Elections, et al." on Justia Law

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Arion Henderson was convicted by jury of malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault in connection with the death of his grandfather, William Stridiron. Henderson contended on appeal that the State violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial and that his trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance in several regards. Finding no reversible error, however, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Henderson's convictions. View "Henderson v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Brian Atkins was convicted by jury of felony murder predicated on aggravated assault and possession of a firearm, all in connection with the 2016 shooting death of Brian Parks. On appeal, Atkins argued the evidence was insufficient to prove he assaulted Parks with a deadly weapon, the trial court erred in excluding an unavailable witness’s out-of-court statement, and that the verdict form was misleading. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Atkins' convictions. View "Atkins v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Shane Hinkson appeals from his conviction for felony murder predicated on aggravated assault stemming from the death of his eight-month-old son, Alexander Cabanayan. On appeal, Hinkson argued the jury returned invalid verdicts, his indictment was defective, and that the trial court erred in admitting into evidence a pre-trial statement he made to police and evidence of a gun found in his apartment. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed Hinkson's conviction. View "Hinkson v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Antwan "Rico" Jackson filed an out-of-time appeal to challenge his 2010 convictions for felony murder and attempted cocaine trafficking in connection with the shooting death of Christopher Hoskin. Appellant contended: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions; (2) the trial court erred in failing to quash the two counts of the indictment on which he was convicted; (3) the court erred in allowing the State in closing argument to denigrate defense counsel and to vouch for a prosecution witness; and (4) the court committed plain error in failing to instruct the jury that a sentence of life imprisonment was mandatory if the jury found him guilty of either of two murder charges. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part. The Court found: the evidence was legally sufficient to support Appellant’s convictions, but the trial court erred in entering a judgment of conviction and sentence on the guilty verdict for attempted cocaine trafficking, which merged into the related felony murder conviction. Further, Appellant failed to preserve for appellate review his claims relating to the indictment and the State’s closing argument by not raising them at the appropriate time in the trial court, and the Court previously held that it was not plain error for a trial court not to charge the jury that a sentence of life imprisonment is mandatory if the jury finds the defendant guilty of either malice murder or felony murder. Accordingly, Appellant’s conviction and sentence for attempted cocaine trafficking was vacated; judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Jackson v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Charmane Goins was convicted of malice murder in connection with the strangling death of Lauren Taylor. The trial court summarily denied his motion for new trial. In a prior appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the evidence presented at Appellant’s trial was legally sufficient to support his murder conviction, but it otherwise vacated the trial court’s order and remanded the case for the court to make factual findings and legal conclusions regarding Appellant’s claim that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated; the Supreme Court did not address his other claims. On remand, the trial court issued a detailed order rejecting the speedy trial claim, and again denying Appellant's motion for a new trial. On second appeal, Appellant raised the speedy trial claim, along with claims that the State failed to preserve allegedly exculpatory evidence and that the trial court erred by admitting evidence from his cell phone, by denying his motion for a mistrial, and by excluding evidence about the victim. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed his conviction. View "Goins v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Donnel Rawls was convicted of malice murder and feticide in connection with the killing of his pregnant girlfriend, Amber Beckwith. Appellant argued on appeal that his convictions were not supported by the evidence presented at his trial, that hearsay evidence of his prior abuse of Beckwith was improperly admitted, that the jury was improperly instructed on flight, and that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rawls v. Georgia" on Justia Law