Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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LaVante Pierre Gray was convicted for felony murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, in relation to the death of James Jones. The incident occurred on September 1, 2017, when Jones and Gray were arguing over a missing wallet. Jones accused Gray of stealing his wallet and demanded that Gray empty his pockets. The argument escalated into a physical altercation, during which Jones took the key fob to Gray's car. Gray shot Jones multiple times, retrieved his key fob, and fled the scene. Gray was later arrested in Ohio.Gray was indicted by a DeKalb County grand jury on January 4, 2018, on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was tried before a jury in July 2021 and acquitted of malice murder but found guilty of the other charges. Gray was sentenced to life in prison for felony murder and five years for possession of a firearm, to run consecutively. Gray filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court.In the Supreme Court of Georgia, Gray argued that the trial court erred by refusing to give his request for jury charges supporting the defense of justification. He claimed that he acted in self-defense to prevent a forcible felony. However, the Supreme Court of Georgia concluded that even if the trial court erred, the error was harmless due to the strong evidence against Gray. The court noted that multiple witnesses saw Gray argue with Jones, fight with him, and shoot him multiple times. The court also noted that the evidence supporting Gray's defense was weak. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's decision. View "Gray v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case revolves around Clark Chandler Anderson, who was convicted of malice murder for shooting and killing Kevin Murr. Anderson argued that the killing was voluntary manslaughter, not murder, as he shot Murr after being seriously provoked. However, the jury found Anderson guilty of malice murder. Anderson appealed, contending that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, that the trial court should have given his requested jury instruction about voluntary manslaughter, and that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to certain testimonies.Previously, Anderson was found guilty of malice murder, felony murder predicated on aggravated assault, aggravated assault of Murr, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for malice murder, with a consecutive term of five years in prison for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed Anderson's convictions. The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support Anderson’s conviction for malice murder as it showed that he intentionally shot Murr 16 times. The court also concluded that no jury instruction about voluntary manslaughter was required because the provocation that Anderson claimed was not enough to excite the “sudden, violent, and irresistible passion” that could warrant a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter. Furthermore, the court found that Anderson's counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to the coworkers’ testimony, as the counsel wanted the jury to hear some of the testimony because it would serve counsel’s strategy of trying to evoke the jury’s sympathy. View "Anderson v. State" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Visheslav Feder, who was convicted of felony murder and other crimes related to the shooting death of Avery Birthrong. Feder had lent money to Birthrong and her boyfriend, Laurence Parks, and when they failed to repay him, Feder began making threats. On the day of the incident, Feder fired at a vehicle containing Birthrong, Parks, and another individual, John Durden. Birthrong was fatally shot in the head.The case was initially tried in a Gwinnett County court where Feder was indicted for felony murder and aggravated assault of Birthrong, Parks, and Durden, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Feder was found not guilty of the aggravated assault of Parks, but guilty of felony murder and the remaining counts. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, with additional sentences for the other counts. Feder filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied.In the Supreme Court of Georgia, Feder argued that his acquittal for the aggravated assault of Parks meant he should not have been convicted for the felony murder and aggravated assault of Birthrong or the aggravated assault of Durden, as the verdicts were repugnant. He also claimed his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress evidence recovered from his cell phone. The court disagreed, stating that the verdicts were at most inconsistent, not repugnant, which is not a basis for reversal. The court also found that Feder failed to establish that his trial counsel's decision not to file a motion to suppress was deficient. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's decision. View "FEDER v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case revolves around Derylmyaize Jackson, who was convicted of felony murder and a firearm offense related to the shooting death of Tazavia Cooper. The incident occurred on July 5, 2019, when Jackson and Cooper met to exchange guns. Jackson shot Cooper, took his gun, and fled the scene. Jackson was indicted by a grand jury in October 2020 and found guilty of all charges in June 2021. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for felony murder and five consecutive years for the firearm offense. Jackson filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied in August 2023.Jackson appealed his conviction, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to statements made by the prosecutor during her closing argument. He claimed these statements reduced the state's burden to prove the charged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. To succeed in his claim, Jackson had to prove that his counsel's performance was deficient and that he suffered prejudice as a result.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court assumed that Jackson's trial counsel may have performed deficiently by not objecting to the prosecutor's statements about reasonable doubt. However, Jackson failed to establish a reasonable probability that the outcome of his trial would have been different if counsel had objected, thus he did not show prejudice. The court noted that the evidence against Jackson was significant, and the prosecutor's mischaracterization of reasonable doubt was corrected by the trial court's jury instructions. Therefore, Jackson's claim of ineffective assistance was dismissed. View "JACKSON v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves Justin Scott Mayo, who was convicted for malice murder and other crimes related to the death of his girlfriend, Stephanie Smith. Mayo was indicted for one count of malice murder, one count of felony murder predicated on a count of aggravated assault, and two additional counts of felony murder, each predicated on a separate count of aggravated battery. The trial court acquitted Mayo of two counts of felony murder and the two counts of aggravated battery on which those felony murder counts were predicated. The jury found Mayo guilty of malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault. Mayo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for malice murder.Mayo appealed his convictions, arguing that the trial court presented the jury with a confusing verdict form that was inconsistent with the jury charge, and that the trial court received and responded to a note from the jury during its deliberations without informing the parties, thereby depriving Mayo of his right to be present throughout the proceedings against him and his right to effective assistance of counsel.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the trial court's decision. The court found that the trial court's response to the jury's note was not incorrect and was within the trial court's discretion. The court also concluded that the presumption of harm arising from the court's assumed violation of Mayo's right to be present was rebutted by the evidence. View "MAYO v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case revolves around Kenneth Maurice Isaac, who was convicted of malice murder and other crimes related to the shooting death of Reginald Roberts. Isaac was indicted on five counts, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, along with additional consecutive sentences for the possession and street gang offenses. Isaac filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court.The case was previously reviewed by a lower court, which denied Isaac's motion for a new trial. Isaac had argued that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by refusing to allow him to testify in his own defense and that the trial court erred by declining to instruct the jury on impeachment of a witness through bias toward a party.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Isaac failed to show that his trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance. Even if Isaac had testified, the court concluded that there was not a "reasonable probability" that the result of the proceeding would have been different given the strong evidence of Isaac's guilt. The court also found that the trial court did not err in declining to give a charge on impeachment of a witness through bias toward a party, as the charge was substantially covered by the charge actually given. View "ISAAC v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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David and Catherine Floam, residents of Cobb County, Georgia, sought a declaratory judgment against the Cobb County Commission, arguing that the Commission had unconstitutionally altered district boundaries that had been established by the General Assembly in 2022. The Floams argued that the Commission's amendment, which changed their voting district, exceeded the County's Home Rule powers under the Georgia Constitution. The trial court ruled in favor of the Floams, finding that the Commission's amendment did indeed exceed its Home Rule powers.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Georgia reversed the trial court's decision. The Supreme Court found that while the Floams had constitutional standing to challenge the Commission's amendment, they did not demonstrate any uncertainty regarding their future conduct that warranted declaratory relief. The court concluded that the Floams' claim was an attempt to enforce accrued rights and guide the future conduct of the defendants, which is insufficient to state a claim for declaratory relief. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision, without reaching the merits of the constitutional arguments. View "COBB COUNTY v. FLOAM" on Justia Law

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The case involves Rodrigues Platt, who was convicted for crimes related to the shooting death of David Jones, Jr. The crimes occurred on June 16, 2009, and Platt, along with two others, was indicted for malice murder, felony murder predicated on aggravated assault, aggravated assault, armed robbery, burglary, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. A jury found Platt guilty on all counts in August 2011, and he was sentenced to life in prison for malice murder, two concurrent twenty-year terms for armed robbery and burglary, and a consecutive five-year term for the firearms offense. Platt filed a motion for a new trial in August 2011, which was denied in September 2023.Platt appealed his convictions, arguing that the trial court should have granted a mistrial due to the State’s failure to disclose the inconclusive test results of a hair sample from a critical witness against him who was also a possible suspect. He also argued that the court should have granted a mistrial based on the State’s belated disclosure that Platt’s initial custodial interview had been recorded despite previously representing otherwise. Platt also argued that the trial court should have taken some curative action when the prosecutor improperly identified him for testifying witnesses, and that the cumulative prejudice of these errors warrants a new trial.The Supreme Court of Georgia concluded that Platt failed to establish that a mistrial was necessary to preserve his right to a fair trial, that any curative action was necessary based on the prosecutor’s identification of him, or that any errors cumulatively prejudiced him. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's decision. View "PLATT v. STATE" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Two former police officers, John Powell and Brian Scott, were indicted for violating their oaths of office under OCGA § 16-10-1. The indictment alleged that they failed to uphold the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by Brady v. Maryland by not conducting investigations into allegations of police misconduct. The officers filed a general demurrer, arguing that the indictment failed to adequately charge them with any offense against the laws of Georgia, and that the oath-of-office statute was unconstitutionally vague as applied to the facts of the case. The trial court denied the demurrer, concluding that the allegations would constitute conduct violative of the oaths of office taken by the officers.The Supreme Court of Georgia reviewed the trial court's ruling on the general demurrer de novo. The court agreed with the officers that the trial court's ruling regarding the sufficiency of the indictment was erroneous, and their general demurrers should have been granted. The court found that the indictment alleged that the officers committed the crimes in a specific way that was legally impossible. The court concluded that the indictment against the officers could not withstand a general demurrer and reversed the trial court's denial of the general demurrers to the indictment. The court did not reach the officers' constitutional challenge or the speedy-trial issue also before them on appeal. View "POWELL v. STATE" on Justia Law

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The case involves James Graham Ward who was convicted for felony murder and other crimes related to two shootings that occurred on March 24, 2021, one of which resulted in the death of Brian Belin. Ward was indicted for multiple counts including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was found guilty on several counts and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus a total of 20 consecutive years for other counts. Ward filed a timely motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court.Ward appealed his convictions, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his request to charge the jury on voluntary manslaughter, in denying his motion for a directed verdict on certain counts, and that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. The Supreme Court of Georgia, after reviewing the evidence and arguments, found no merit in Ward's claims and affirmed his convictions. The court held that there was not even slight evidence to support a charge of voluntary manslaughter, the evidence was sufficient to support Ward’s convictions for aggravated assault and possession of a firearm, and Ward failed to prove that his counsel performed deficiently. View "WARD v. STATE" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law