Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

by
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

by
Prisoner Jomeka Pope appealed pro se an order denying his “motion to vacate a void and illegal sentence,” “motion to withdraw Alford (guilty) plea,” and “motion for appointment of counsel.” Pope contended that his sentence of life without the possibility of parole was void under former OCGA 17-10-32.1, because the sentencing court failed to comply with it. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed. As to the propriety of the superior court’s denial of Pope’s motion to withdraw his Alford (guilty) plea and his motion for appointment of counsel, such rulings were inextricably linked to the court’s erroneous denial of Pope’s motion to vacate his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The superior court denied his motion to withdraw the Alford (guilty) plea based primarily upon its finding that the motion was untimely as it was filed more than two years after Pope’s sentence was imposed, and it denied his motion for appointment of counsel after finding that Pope had no right to the appointment of counsel because his motion to withdraw his plea was untimely. Because the superior court’s denial of these motions was premised on timeliness in relation to sentencing, and the Supreme Court determined that Pope’s sentence of life without the possibility of parole was void ab initio, such motions had to be reconsidered. However, the vacating of Pope’s sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole will not render his pleas on the remaining counts subject to withdrawal as a matter of right. View "Pope v. Georgia" on Justia Law

by
Jerrick Atkinson was tried by jury and found guilty of malice murder, aggravated assault, attempted armed robbery, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and various other offenses in connection with the shooting death of Wayne Edwards. In his pro se appeal, Atkinson raised thirty separate enumerations of error relating to the sufficiency of the evidence, his sentence, and other matters that transpired before and at trial and during his sentencing, and he raised twenty-three separate grounds of alleged ineffective assistance of his trial counsel. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Atkinson’s convictions, but it also vacated a portion of his sentence in order to rectify an issue relating to the merger of certain counts against him for sentencing purposes. View "Atkinson v. Georgia" on Justia Law

by
Appellants Travon Menefee and Christian Williams appealed their convictions for malice murder and related crimes stemming from a “drug deal gone bad” which resulted in the death of Antonias Williams (no relation to appellant). The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in part, vacated in part and remanded to address errors in sentencing. View "Menefee v. Georgia" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Gregory Walker, Jr. was convicted of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting death of Roger Clark. He contended on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions; that the trial court committed plain error in failing to charge the jury on voluntary manslaughter and defense of habitation; that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding testimony at trial and at the motion for new trial hearing; and that Appellant received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Walker v. Georgia" on Justia Law

by
A jury found appellant Stephen Bailey guilty but mentally ill on all thirteen counts of an indictment filed in connection with the stabbing deaths of Ursula Peterson and her adult daughter Dominique Martin, who were his upstairs neighbors. Bailey argued on appeal that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence, denying his Jackson-Denno motion, and refusing to give an instruction on voluntary manslaughter. Finding no error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Bailey v. Georgia" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Joe Lee Waye appealed the denial of his amended motion for out of-time appeal of his conviction and sentence on his plea of guilty to malice murder. In 1996, Waye entered a negotiated plea under which he pled guilty to one count of malice murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1991 murder of victim Tim Worley. In exchange for Waye’s plea, the State agreed to the dismissal of additional charges related to the murder (as well as separate pending drug charges) and agreed not to seek the death penalty. Twenty years later, Waye filed a pro se motion to correct his sentence. That motion was denied, and Waye did not initiate a timely appeal. Instead, Waye filed a pro se motion seeking leave to file an out-of-time direct appeal of his conviction, contending that his guilty plea was invalid. Subsequently, Waye amended his motion for out-of-time appeal, so that he could also seek leave to appeal the trial court’s denial of his motion to correct sentence. The trial court denied both motions. Finding no error with the trial court’s decision, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Waye v. Georgia" on Justia Law

by
Appellants Margarita Gomez and Alejandro Huitron challenged their convictions for felony murder and other crimes related to injuries to and the resulting death of their three-year-old daughter, Esmerelda. The Georgia Supreme Court vacated three of each Appellant’s convictions (Counts 4, 11, and 16) to correct sentencing errors, but rejected Appellants’ many other contentions and affirmed their remaining convictions. View "Gomez v. Georgia" on Justia Law

by
In 2006, Kenneth Berzett pled guilty to child molestation, and in 2009, the Sexual Offender Registration Review Board classified him as a sexually dangerous predator. Berzett petitioned the superior court for judicial review of his classification, and he simultaneously filed a petition for declaratory judgment, alleging that OCGA 42-1-14 was unconstitutional. Furthermore, he sought injunctive relief against enforcement or application of the electronic monitoring requirement required by the statute. As to the petition for judicial review, the superior court affirmed the Board’s classification of Berzett and denied his request for relief, and Berzett did not appeal the superior court’s decision. Meanwhile, the Board filed a motion to dismiss the declaratory judgment action. After the final decision on the petition for judicial review, the Board asserted in a supplement to its motion to dismiss that Berzett’s request for declaratory judgment had become moot because there was no longer an active controversy between Berzett and the Board, any ruling on the constitutionality of OCGA 42-1-14 would have no practical effect on Berzett, and he no longer faced uncertainty as to any future undirected action. Although the superior court dismissed one of Berzett’s constitutional claims, it denied the Board’s motion to dismiss as to all other claims, deciding that, inter alia, those claims were not moot and a petition for declaratory judgment was a proper vehicle for raising them. On subsequent cross-motions for summary judgment, the superior court granted summary judgment to the Board on one constitutional claim but granted summary judgment to Berzett on all of his other constitutional claims. The superior court held that Berzett was not subject to the electronic monitoring obligations imposed on sexually dangerous predators and issued a writ of prohibition against the Board and its officers and agents that prohibited them from requiring Berzett to wear or pay for GPS monitoring pursuant to the statute. The Board appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for dismissal, finding the trial court erred in deciding the constitutional arguments because there was no justiciable controversy, and the relief requested by Berzett would have no effect on the Board’s already-final and completed act of the risk of classification of Berzett or on any other right or responsibility of the Board towards him. View "Sexual Offender Registration Review Board v. Berzett" on Justia Law

by
The constitutional doctrine of sovereign immunity forbids Georgia courts to entertain a lawsuit against the State without its consent. This case began in 2012, not long after the adoption of House Bill 954, which concerned medical procedures for the termination of pregnancies. Eva Lathrop, Carrie Cwiak, and Lisa Haddad are physicians licensed to practice in Georgia. In their petition, the plaintiff-physicians alleged that House Bill 954 violated the Georgia constitution in several respects. Based on their allegations, the plaintiff-physicians sought a declaratory judgment that certain provisions of House Bill 954 were unconstitutional, and they sought injunctive relief to restrain the defendant-state officers from enforcing House Bill 954. The trial court granted a motion to dismiss these claims, and the plaintiff-physicians appealed dismissal of their petition. The Georgia Supreme Court held that the doctrine of sovereign immunity extends generally to suits against the State, its departments and agencies, and its officers in their official capacities for injunctive and declaratory relief from official acts that are alleged to be unconstitutional. In so holding, however, the Court recognized the availability of other means by which aggrieved citizens may obtain relief from unconstitutional acts, including prospective relief from the threatened enforcement of unconstitutional laws. View "Lathrop v. Deal" on Justia Law