Articles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court

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Appellant William Cobb was convicted of child molestation and related crimes involving three of his children and sentenced to life in prison plus 140 years. His conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeals. The only issue raised in that appeal was the admission of similar transactions evidence at trial. In 2010, Cobb filed a petition for habeas relief, alleging fourteen grounds, including ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The habeas court denied relief on all claims. One of the bases of appellant’s ineffective assistance claim in the habeas corpus proceeding concerned the admission at trial of the videotaped forensic interview of his daughter H.C. under the child hearsay statute. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the habeas court's decision to deny relief to appellant's claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. View "Cobb v. Hart" on Justia Law

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Following the denial of his motion for new trial, Carl Gibbs appealed his convictions for malice murder, armed robbery, and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime in connection with the fatal beating and shooting of Judson Boyd. His only challenge was that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of the crimes. The Supreme Court concluded the evidentiary challenge was without merit; however, it was error to sentence Gibbs on both of the firearm possession counts. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part, and vacated in part. View "Gibbs v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Following a jury trial, Eric Castro was found guilty of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, and various other offenses in connection with the death of two-year-old Kailee Parker. Heather Parker, Kailee’s mother, was found guilty of two counts of felony murder, both predicated on the offenses of cruelty to children for Parker’s failure to seek medical treatment for Kailee. Castro contended that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the verdict and that the trial court erred in admitting into evidence at trial certain autopsy photographs of Kailee. In her appeal, Parker argued that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the verdict against her and that the trial court erred in its charge to the jury. Finding no reversible error in either appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed both convictions. View "Castro v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Kevin Peoples was convicted of felony murder and several other crimes in connection with a home invasion that resulted in the shooting death of J.R. Morrow. On appeal, he contended that: (1) the evidence at trial was insufficient to support his conviction for the kidnapping with bodily injury of Morrow's father; (2) the trial court erred by admitting hearsay statements made by a co-conspirator before the conspiracy was formed; (3) the court erred by admitting evidence of a prior bad act by Appellant; (4) the court erred by allowing the prosecutor to refer to jurors by name and to make an inappropriate demonstration during closing arguments; and (5) Appellant's trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by not objecting to portions of the prosecutor's closing arguments. Upon review of the facts in record, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in admitting the prior act evidence, but the Court also concluded that this error was harmless. Appellant's other claims of error lacked merit. View "Peoples v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Artemus Walker was tried by jury and convicted of the murder of Lynwood Ray Gresham, as well as several related crimes. For murder, he was sentenced to death, and for the other crimes, he was sentenced to terms of imprisonment. On direct appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed his convictions and sentences. In 2009, Walker filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Following an evidentiary hearing, the habeas court granted the writ. Although it found that some claims were procedurally barred, not cognizable in habeas proceedings, or otherwise without merit, the habeas court concluded that several of his claims had merit. In particular, the habeas court concluded that Walker was denied due process by having been tried while incompetent, and it concluded as well that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel, not only with respect to his competence, but also with respect to the presentation of certain defenses and mitigating evidence involving his mental health. In Case No. S13A1472, the Warden appealed the grant of the writ, and in Case No. S13X1473, Walker cross-appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the grant of the writ in the appeal by the Warden. By affirming the grant of the writ, the cross-appeal was moot. View "Humphrey v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Edgar Betancourt and appellant Oscar Hernandez were tried by a jury and convicted of trafficking cocaine. At trial, the State presented evidence that Betancourt and Hernandez were stopped by law enforcement officers in Gwinnett County. In the course of that traffic stop, the officers found the cocaine hidden in the car, a Nissan with a Massachusetts tag and dark tinted windows. The State also presented evidence of a similar transaction, in which Betancourt and Hernandez had been stopped two weeks earlier by law enforcement officers in North Carolina. In the course of that stop, the North Carolina officers found $195,000 hidden in the car, a Mercedes with a Massachusetts tag and dark tinted windows. Betancourt and Hernandez both appealed their convictions; among other claims of error, Hernandez asserted that the trial court should have suppressed the evidence of the similar transaction because the State failed to prove the lawfulness of the North Carolina traffic stop. The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, reasoning that the suppression of evidence seized by out-of-state law enforcement officers would have yielded no appreciable deterrence, and held that the exclusionary rule did not apply in this case to require the suppression of the similar transaction evidence, even assuming that such evidence was seized unlawfully. After its review, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's judgment, but on different grounds: Hernandez merely argued that the State had failed to prove the lawfulness of the stop. The State had no burden to prove the lawfulness of the stop until its lawfulness was put in issue by a motion that complied with the statutory requirements, and it was undisputed that Hernandez filed no such motion. Accordingly, the trial court ruled that the State was not required to prove that the evidence was obtained lawfully. Hernandez failed to preserve any error with respect to the suppression of the similar transaction evidence. View "Hernandez v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the City of Sandy Springs and two individual homeowners, John E. Balsam and Jerry Burnstein, filed suit against Fulton County, its Board of Commissioners, and its Director of Public Works. Sandy Springs sought a declaratory judgment, mandamus, and injunctive relief on whether Fulton County retained ownership of and responsibility for two drainage retention ponds and a dam located within Sandy Springs. Following a bench trial, the trial court found in favor of Sandy Springs, and Fulton County appealed, contending that it was prohibited from maintaining the detention ponds pursuant to the Georgia constitution. Under the circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court found that Fulton County retained current ownership of and responsibility for the easements it held over the dam and retention ponds located in Sandy Springs. However, any concomitant responsibility continued only until the easements at issue were legally transferred, terminated, or prospectively abandoned. As a result, to the extent that the trial court's order could be read to indicate that Fulton County had to maintain the easements in perpetuity, the Court reversed. View "Fulton County v. City of Sandy Springs" on Justia Law

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Appellant Deanthony Hartsfield was convicted of felony murder, armed robbery, and aggravated assault in connection with the 2010 shooting death of Dominique George. Hartsfield appealed the denial of his motion for new trial and his conviction and sentence, asserting that the trial court erred by denying his motion for mistrial and that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hartsfield v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Robert Haege died in 2006. Three months earlier, Haege made a will, in which he left his “personal assets” to his brother and sister, and in which he left his “business interests, both tangible and intangible, real or personal, connected to the business known as Traditional Fine Art, Ltd.” to his brother, sister, and two longtime employees. After Haege died, questions arose about the disposition of property associated with Traditional Fine Art, Ltd., insofar as Traditional Fine Art was a sole proprietorship and, therefore, had no legal existence separate and apart from Haege himself. The will was admitted to probate, and Sharon Haege England (sister) was appointed executrix of his estate. England failed to distribute any property to James Simmons and Elery Stinson, the two employees. The employees filed suit against England, seeking a declaratory judgment as to the meaning of the will with respect to the property associated with Traditional Fine Art. The trial court ruled in favor of England, concluding that, because Traditional Fine Art was only a sole proprietorship, the property associated with the business was merely the personal property of Haege. Simmons and Stinson appealed, and in a split decision, the Court of Appeals reversed. To the Supreme Court, England did not dispute the fundamental premise of the decision of the Court of Appeals, that a sole proprietor could separately dispose in his will of personal property connected with his sole proprietorship and his other personal property. Instead, England argued that Haege did not actually intend to separately dispose of any property associated with his sole proprietorship. Taking the will as a whole, the Supreme Court concluded that the most natural and reasonable understanding of the provisions of the will was that Haege left his personal property that amounted to "business interests . . . connected to the business known as Traditional Fine Art, Ltd." specifically including, but not limited to, membership certificates that he owned, to Simmons, Stinson, and his brother and sister, and he left all of his other personal property to his brother and sister alone. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "England v. Simmons" on Justia Law

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In late 2012, appellee Apple Inc. petitioned for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and an injunction under OCGA 34-1-7 against appellant Catherine Danforth, a former employee who had worked at an Apple store at in Atlanta. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Danforth had a history of mental illness, which included a prior suicide attempt and hospitalization in a mental health facility within the last five years and on other occasions; that Danforth was not taking medication; that she had exhibited behavior that caused Apple's employees to reasonably fear for their safety; that she had continued to contact Apple employees following her termination even after being told not to; that her reasons for contacting the Apple employees were work-related and the majority of her conduct towards them occurred during the course of their employment; that she posed an immediate threat of violence to the employees; and that her conduct established a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior towards the Apple employees that constituted stalking. Danforth argued on appeal that the evidence presented to the trial court was insufficient to support an injunction under OCGA 34-1-7 and that the injunction that was issued was overbroad. The Supreme Court concluded the evidence was legally sufficient to support the issuance of an injunction under 34-1-7. However, Apple sought relief under 34-1-7 alone, and the injunction exceeded the scope authorized by that statute to some extent. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the injunction order in part and vacated it in part, and remanded the case to the trial court for the entry of an injunction fully consistent with 34-1-7. View "Danforth v. Apple, Inc." on Justia Law