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In 2013, a grand jury indicted Appellant Brandon Davis for malice murder and felony murder predicated on aggravated assault in connection with the April 2013 stabbing death of Chassity Lester. Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, the State nolle prossed the malice murder count and Davis pled guilty to felony murder; he received a life sentence. Two weeks later, within the same term of court, plea counsel moved to withdraw Davis’ guilty plea alleging “manifest injustice.” At a subsequent hearing (during which Davis was still represented by the same attorney) Davis personally alleged that plea counsel was ineffective; while counsel acknowledged that this was the crux of Davis’ complaint, he also argued that Davis’ plea was not knowingly and voluntarily made. The trial court neither appointed new counsel after Davis raised a claim of ineffective assistance nor received evidence on the claim. Nevertheless, the trial court made a verbal ruling that there was no evidence to support Davis’ allegation of ineffective assistance and, later, entered an order summarily denying Davis’ motion. Davis appealed, reasserting his ineffectiveness claim. The Georgia Supreme Court held that the earliest practicable moment Davis could have properly raised a claim of ineffectiveness was with new counsel on appeal. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s ruling with respect to that claim, and remanded the case for the trial court to hold a hearing on Davis’ ineffectiveness claim with new counsel. View "Davis v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a trial court order quieting title in favor of TDGA, LLC. Appellant Peter Mancuso argued, inter alia, that he did not receive proper notice from TDGA regarding the foreclosure of his right of redemption. After review of the trial court record, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the evidence showed TDGA met its burden as required by OCGA 48-4-45(a)(2) by sending notices to Mancuso's known addresses via certified mail. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's order. View "Mancuso v. TDGA, LLC" on Justia Law

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Clayton County appealed the trial court’s order denying its motion for judgment on the pleadings and granting the motion for partial summary judgment filed by the City ofCollege Park. This dispute arose over the taxation of alcoholic beverages at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Of the many businesses located within the Airport, some are located in the unincorporated sections of the County while other businesses are located in the County within the incorporated limits of the City of College Park (the “City”). In its complaint, the City contended that since the 1983 enactment of OCGA section 3-8-1 (regulation and taxation of alcoholic beverages at public airports), it has not been receiving the proper amount of alcoholic beverage taxes to which it was entitled, and that the County improperly infringed on its authority to tax by instructing vendors to remit to the County 50% of the taxes due from the sale of alcohol in those portions of the Airport located within the City limits. The City and County disagree on the interpretation of OCGA 3-8-1(e). In seeking a judgment on the pleadings, Clayton County asserted, among other things, that the City of College Park’s claims were barred by sovereign immunity. The matter of sovereign immunity was not briefed by the parties, and the trial court did not consider it. To permit a more thorough consideration of this question, the Mississippi Supreme Court remanded for the trial court to address it, with the benefit of full briefing. View "Clayton County v. City of College Park" on Justia Law

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The Roswell City Council enacted a new Unified Development Code to govern land use issues; the Code included a zoning map. Several Roswell property owners filed a lawsuit to challenge the process by which the City Council enacted the Code. When the superior court ruled against the property owners, they directly appealed. The Court of Appeals dismissed their direct appeal, concluding that their lawsuit was a “zoning case” under Georgia Supreme Court decisions in Trend Development Corp. v. Douglas County, (383 SE2d 123) (1989), and O S Advertising Co. v. Rubin, 482 SE2d 295 (1997) (“Rubin”), and thus required an application for discretionary appeal under OCGA 5-6-35(a)(1). But the Mississippi Supreme Court held that a stand-alone lawsuit challenging an ordinance as facially invalid, unconnected to any individualized determination about a particular property, was not a “zoning case” under Trend and Rubin and did not require an application under OCGA 5-6-35. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Schumacher v. City of Roswell" on Justia Law

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In a post-divorce contempt action, the Georgia Supreme Court granted Appellant’s application for discretionary appeal to review the trial court’s order finding Appellant in contempt of three separate provisions of the parties’ divorce decree. “To be sure, this Agreement could have been more clearly drafted [. . .] the complete text of the Agreement demonstrates that the parties intended for Husband to assume all tax liabilities of the businesses. We therefore conclude that the trial court’s construction of ‘corporate income tax liability’ constituted a reasonable clarification of that term rather than an improper modification of the Agreement.” The Court affirmed the trial court’s findings as to two of provisions and reverse as to the third. View "Sutherlin v. Sutherlin" on Justia Law

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Appellant Windy Scott challenged her convictions for malice murder and a gun crime in connection with the shooting death of William Scott. Appellant claimed she was denied the effective assistance of counsel for her trial. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded Appellant’s trial counsel performed deficiently in not seeking expert assistance in evaluating her mental condition at the time of shooting and at the time of trial. However, Appellant did not show that but for this deficiency, there was a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial proceeding would have been more favorable to her. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "Scott v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Quinton Mitchell appealed the denial of his motion to suppress and his motions in limine. Mitchell was charged with driving under the influence (less safe) and failure to maintain lane. Because the trial court failed to require the proper foundation for the Romberg field sobriety test under Harper v. Georgia, 292 SE2d 389 (1982), the Georgia Supreme Court reversed on that ground. The Court affirmed the remainder of the trial court’s rulings. View "Mitchell v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals arose out of a complaint filed by four Georgia taxpayers in which they challenged the constitutionality of Georgia’s Qualified Education Tax Credit, Ga. L. 2008, p. 1108, as amended (“HB 1133” or the “Bill”). HB 1133 set up a tax credit program that allows individuals and businesses to receive a Georgia income tax credit for donations made to approved not-for-profit student scholarship organizations (“SSOs”). The Bill created a new tax credit statute for that purpose. Generally speaking, the SSO is required to distribute the donated funds as scholarships or tuition grants for the benefit of students who meet certain eligibility requirements, and the parent or guardian of each recipient must endorse the award to the accredited private school of the parents’ choice for deposit into the school’s account. Plaintiffs alleged: (1) the Program was educational assistance program, and the scheme of the Program violated the Constitution; (2) the Program provided unconstitutional gratuities to students who receive scholarship funds under the Program by allowing tax revenue to be directed to private school students without recompense, and also that the tax credits authorized by HB 1133 resulted in unauthorized state expenditures for gratuities; (3) the Program took money from the state treasury in the form of dollar-for-dollar tax credits that would otherwise be paid to the State in taxes, and since a significant portion of the scholarships awarded by the SSOs goes to religious-based schools, the Program takes funds from the State treasury to aid religious schools in violation of the Establishment Clause; and (4) the Department of Revenue violated the statute that authorized tax credits for contributions to SSOs by granting tax credits to taxpayers who have designated that their contribution is to be awarded to the benefit of a particular individual, and by failing to revoke the status of SSOs that have represented to taxpayers that their contribution will fund a scholarship that may be directed to a particular individual. Plaintiffs sought mandamus relief to compel the Commissioner of Revenue to revoke the status of SSOs, and injunctive relief against the defendants to require them to comply with the constitutional provisions and statutory laws set forth in the complaint. In addition to mandamus relief and injunctive relief, plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the Program was unconstitutional. The Georgia Supreme Court found no error in the trial court’s finding plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their constitutional claims, or their prayer for declaratory relief with respect to those claims, either by virtue of their status as taxpayers or by operation of OCGA 9-6-24. Consequently plaintiffs failed to allege any clear legal right to mandamus relief. View "Gaddy v. Georgia Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Appellant Michael Jones was tried, convicted and sentenced for driving under the influence. He appealed on the ground that evidence of a prior DUI conviction was wrongfully admitted at trial. At the core of the dispute was the method by which the lower courts are to determine the admissibility of extrinsic act evidence under Rules 404 (b) and 403 of the new Evidence Code. The trial court admitted appellant’s prior DUI for the limited purpose of showing intent and knowledge, as permitted by Rule 404 (b), finding that all three standards for admissibility had been met. The Court of Appeals, however, determined the trial court erred because the evidence in question was not relevant and, therefore, was inadmissible. The Georgia Supreme Court held that Jones’s prior DUI conviction was relevant extrinsic act evidence as contemplated by Rule 404 (b) as to the issue of intent. Upon finding that the prior DUI conviction was relevant to show intent under Rule 404 (b), the Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ judgment in “Jones I” and remanded back to the Court of Appeals with instructions to address the second prong of the three-part admissibility test by determining whether the trial court properly applied the balancing test required by Rule 403. On remand (“Jones II”), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to admit the prior DUI conviction. Since “Jones III” was decided, the Supreme Court had more opportunities to clarify what was required when conducting a Rule 403 balancing test. In light of these recent decisions, the parties agreed, as did the Supreme Court, that the Court of Appeals in Jones III did not fully consider whether the trial court properly conducted the balancing test required by Rule 403. Furthermore, upon review of the trial court’s balancing of the evidence under Rule 403, the Supreme Court held the trial court erred when it determined the probative value of appellant’s prior DUI was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Nevertheless, the error in admitting the prior DUI-less safe evidence was harmless as to appellant’s conviction and sentence for DUI-per se and so the Court of Appeals’ judgment was affirmed as right for any reason. View "Jones v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Hunter Mason Davis was tried before a jury and found guilty of felony murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony in the shooting death of Angelo Larocca. He appealed, asserting multiple claims of error. The Georgia Supreme Court vacated Davis’ sentences on the felony murder counts. “Because both [felony] murder counts involved the same victim, one of the guilty verdicts was vacated by operation of law.” View "Davis v. Georgia" on Justia Law