Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Appellant Gregory Montgomery challenged his 2019 convictions for malice murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting death of Justuss Rogers. Appellant argued the trial court erred in its recharge to the jury after the jury sent the court a note during deliberations and that the court should have granted him a new trial under the “thirteenth juror” standard. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court found the trial court did not err in its recharge to the jury, and Appellant’s “thirteenth juror” claim was wholly without merit. Accordingly, the convictions were affirmed. View "Montgomery v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Justin Whited was convicted of felony murder, aggravated battery, and cruelty to children in the first degree in connection with the death of his seven-week old daughter, Dinah Whited. On appeal, Whited argued that: (1) the trial court plainly erred by giving a single-witness charge under OCGA § 24-14-8 without also giving a charge on accomplice corroboration; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion by denying Whited’s motion in limine under OCGA § 24-4-403 to exclude from evidence a recording of a phone call in which Whited discussed the decision to remove his daughter from life support. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Whited v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Walter Wright challenged his conviction for felony murder in connection with the shooting death of Oletha Brady. Appellant contended: (1) the evidence was legally insufficient to support his conviction; (2) that the trial court committed plain error in instructing the jury on good character evidence; and (3) that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel when counsel failed to object to that instruction. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the evidence was sufficient; the instruction on good character evidence, which tracked the pattern jury instruction in effect was not erroneous; and that Appellant’s counsel did not perform deficiently in failing to make a meritless objection to the instruction. View "Wright v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Donovan Gay received a speeding ticket and to which he pled not guilty. While his case was pending, he filed a pretrial petition for habeas corpus to challenge pretrial restrictions on his driving privileges. The habeas court dismissed the petition, and the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal: as the Court held in Phillips v. Jackson, 877 SE2d 185 (2022), pretrial habeas relief under OCGA § 9-14-1 (a) was not available when, as here, the proceedings under which the petitioner’s liberty was restrained were still pending and he could seek relief under ordinary established procedures. Because Gay could have asked the state court to remove the restrictions in question and could have sought an interlocutory appeal if the court refused, pretrial habeas relief was not available to him. View "Gay v. Jackson, et al." on Justia Law

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A trial court granted Jeremiah Kelly's motion for a new trial, but gave the State an opportunity to request a rehearing within 30 days. The State filed such a request within that time, but did so after the expiration of the term of court in which the order granting a new trial was entered. Nevertheless, the trial court purported to enter a denial of Kelly’s motion for new trial. Kelly appealed that trial court order. Because the trial court did not have jurisdiction to consider the State’s out-of-term request for rehearing or to enter an order denying the motion for new trial, the Georgia Supreme Court vacated that order and remanded the case for further proceedings pursuant to the trial court’s initial order granting Kelly a new trial. View "Kelly v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Kentrick Ridley was convicted of malice murder and related crimes in connection with the 2016 shooting death of Rico Bynum. On appeal, Ridley contended: (1) the evidence was not sufficient as a matter of due process to support his convictions; and (2) the trial court failed to fulfill its role as the “thirteenth juror,” and that the trial court erred by allowing the prosecutor to make certain statements during her closing argument. The Georgia Supreme Court found the record showed the evidence was sufficient to support Ridley’s convictions and that the trial court exercised its role as the thirteenth juror. "And most of the closing- argument statements that Ridley challenges were proper comments on the defense’s failure to present evidence—made with express reference to the fact that the burden of proof rests 'completely' with the State—while the remaining statement at issue properly asked the jury to draw a reasonable inference supported by undisputed evidence." So the Court affirmed Ridley’s convictions and sentences. View "Ridley v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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William Clark was convicted of felony murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting death of Anthony King and the aggravated assault of Anthony Davis. In his appeal, Clark contended: (1) the evidence presented at his trial was legally insufficient to support his convictions for the crimes against King; (2) the trial court applied the wrong standard in admitting evidence of an audio recording of his interview with the lead investigator for his case; (3) the trial court committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury on knowledge, grave suspicion, mere presence, and mere association; and (4) his trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to request those instructions and by failing to file a demurrer to the indictment. Finding no merit to any of these claims, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Clark's convictions. View "Clark v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Michelle Hightower was charged with malice murder and other crimes in connection with the 2017 shooting death of Michael McGee. Hightower’s trial on these charges began March 9, 2020, and four days later, on March 13, after the Chief Judge of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit issued an order declaring a judicial emergency due to the continued transmission of the COVID-19 virus, the trial court declared a mistrial in Hightower’s case, over defense counsel’s objections. Hightower subsequently filed a plea in bar and motion to dismiss the indictment, asserting that further prosecution of her case was barred by the double jeopardy clauses of the state and federal constitutions because there was no manifest necessity to declare a mistrial and because the trial court did not exercise its discretion or consider reasonable alternatives prior to declaring the mistrial. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the Plea in Bar on May 21, 2021, and Hightower appealed. Because the Georgia Supreme Court concluded the trial court acted within its discretion in determining that there was a manifest necessity for a mistrial, judgment was affirmed. View "Hightower v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Michael Kenney was convicted by jury of malice murder and related offenses in connection with the shooting death of Laquitta Brown. Before trial, Kenney moved in limine to exclude hearsay statements that Sharrie Dixon, a witness present during the shooting who was unavailable to testify at trial, allegedly made to Aisha Brown (“Aisha”), Laquitta’s partner. In response, the State filed a notice of intent to admit Dixon’s statements to Aisha under OCGA § 24-8-807 (“the residual exception” or “Rule 807”). The court construed the State’s notice as a motion to admit Dixon’s statements. Then, finding that the State had failed to establish exceptional guarantees of trustworthiness, the court granted Kenney’s motion in limine and denied the State’s construed motion to admit Dixon’s statements. The State timely appealed under OCGA § 5-7-1(a)(5). On appeal, the State argued the trial court abused its discretion in excluding Dixon’s statements because the statements were admissible under OCGA §§ 24-8-803 (1) (present sense impression), 24-8-803 (2) (excited utterance), and 24-8-807 (the residual exception). The Georgia Supreme Court concluded, however, that the State affirmatively waived its present-sense-impression and excited-utterance arguments and that the court was authorized to conclude that Dixon’s statements were inadmissible under the residual exception. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Georgia v. Kenney" on Justia Law

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During Joseph Watkins’s murder trial, a juror conducted a “drive test” during a break in deliberations to see whether the defendant could have been physically present at the time and place the victim was shot. The next day, the jury voted to convict Watkins of felony murder and other crimes, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Years later, Watkins’s counsel learned about the juror’s misconduct and filed the habeas petition in this case. The habeas court ultimately granted relief on the juror-misconduct claim and two other grounds. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded Watkins has shown that the juror’s misconduct caused him actual prejudice—for at least that juror, her drive test “proved” a key and heavily disputed piece of the State’s burden of proof against Watkins—and affirmed the grant of habeas relief on the juror-misconduct claim. View "Ballinger v. Watkins" on Justia Law