The Georgia Supreme Court found that appellant Avery Bryant’s trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the sufficiency of the police warrant leading to Bryant’s arrest. The warrant in question did not adequately describe the items police intended to seize, therefore the search was presumptively unreasonable and unconstitutional, “the warrant here did not simply omit a few items from a list of many to be seized, or misdescribe a few of several items . . . , the warrant did not describe the items to be seized at all.” Bryant had been convicted by jury of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and possession of a pistol by a person under age 18. On appeal, he argued ineffective assistance of counsel, and that the trial court erred in instructing the jury. In light of the ineffective assistance claim, the Georgia Supreme Court did not address Bryant’s remaining claims of error, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Bryant v. Georgia" on Justia Law
Yididya Woldemichael pleaded guilty to armed robbery and other charges for his role in the robbery and beating of a pizza delivery woman. He filed a petition for habeas corpus, which was granted on grounds that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to advise Woldemichael that inculpatory custodial statements could have been suppressed. Woldemichael was 14 years old at the time of the police interview. The Warden appealed the grant of habeas relief, arguing that the statements were voluntary and would have been admissible at trial and, thus, counsel’s performance was not deficient. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the habeas court that Woldemichael’s statements to police were subject to suppression. But because the habeas court assumed, without separate analysis, that recorded statements that Woldemichael made to a co-defendant during a break in police questioning also were subject to suppression, it remanded for the habeas court to analyze the admissibility of those statements in the first instance. View "Oubre v. Woldemichael" on Justia Law
The Court of Appeals, in a divided full-court (15-judge) decision, certified to the Georgia Supreme Court a single question of statutory construction: whether OCGA 15-11-521 (b) required dismissal with prejudice when the State neither filed a petition alleging juvenile delinquency within the applicable 30-day period nor seeks an extension of time in which to file such petition. At the time the Court of Appeals certified its question, the Supreme Court had granted petitions for certiorari in two other cases ("M.D.H." and "D.V.H.") to address the same question. The Court held in a single opinion that “if the State fails to file a delinquency petition within the required30 days or to seek and receive an extension of that deadline, the case must be dismissed without prejudice,” and thus affirming the decision in M.D.H. and reversing the decision in D.V.H. Because the answer to the certified question submitted by the Court of Appeals in this case “may be found in the decision of this [C]ourt in [another case,] we will not again undertake to consider the questionsubmitted.” View "In the Interest of J.F." on Justia Law
In February 2014, Jason Dakota Baxter (who then was sixteen years old) was arrested and charged with aggravated sexual battery. Baxter was detained pending indictment and trial. About a month after his arrest, Baxter executed a written waiver of his entitlement to have his case presented to the grand jury within 180 days, and Baxter and the State filed the waiver with the superior court. In October 2014, however, Baxter filed a motion to transfer his case to juvenile court, asserting that his case had not been timely presented to the grand jury as required by OCGA 17-7-50.1 and that his waiver was ineffective. The superior court granted the motion, and the State appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that presentation to the grand jury within 180 days of detention was an absolute requirement (unless the time was extended for good cause), that such presentation was essential to the jurisdiction of the superior court, and that parties could not by agreement, consent, or waiver confer jurisdiction upon a court that otherwise was without it. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Court of Appeals misunderstood OCGA 17-7-50.1 when it concluded that the statute did not permit a detained child to waive presentation within 180 days of the date of detention. For that reason, the Court of Appeals erred when it affirmed the transfer from the superior court to the juvenile court. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "Georgia v. Baxter" on Justia Law
In 2013 while he was in custody, investigators questioned a then- 18-year-old Tyler Estrada abut a Gwinnett County homicide. Estrada had been in custody in DeKalb County. At an evidentiary hearing, audio recordings of Estrada’s custodial statement were placed into evidence, the trial court determined that though Estrada invoked his right to counsel, he never waived his Miranda rights either in writing or verbally. Accordingly, the trial court granted Estrada’s motion to suppress the statement. The State appealed. Finding no reversible error to that suppression order, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Georgia v. Estrada" on Justia Law
At issue in these cases was what happens when the State fails to file a petition alleging delinquency against a juvenile who was not detained within 30 days of the filing of the complaint or seek an extension of that deadline from the juvenile court. In In the "Interest of M.D.H.," (779 SE2d 433 (2015)), a panel of the Court of Appeals held that the failure to comply with section 15-11-521(b) required dismissal of the juvenile case, but the dismissal was without prejudice. Three days later, in "Interest of D.V.H.," (779 SE2d 122 (2015)), a different panel answered the same question the opposite way, concluding that a violation of section 15-11-121(b) required dismissal with prejudice. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in both cases, asking whether the Court of Appeals correctly applied OCGA section 15-11-521 (b). The Supreme Court held that if the State fails to file a delinquency petition within the required 30 days or to seek and receive an extension of that deadline, the case must be dismissed without prejudice. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ judgment in M.D.H., and reversed the judgment in D.V.H. View "In the Interest of M.D.H." on Justia Law
While still a minor, appellant Marcus More was indicted on two counts of malice murder and other crimes relating to two fatal shootings. The State gave appellant notice of its intent to seek the death penalty and of the aggravating circumstance supporting the death penalty on which it intended to rely. A jury found appellant guilty on all charges, and rather than proceed to sentencing, he entered a negotiated plea agreement in which he agreed (inter alia) to waive his rights to appeal and all post-conviction review of his convictions and sentences. For that waiver, the State recommended (and the trial court accepted) a life sentence without the possibility of parole on one malice murder county, and consecutive sentences on the remaining counts. Four years after appellant received his sentence, the federal Supreme Court decided "Roper v. Simmons" (543 U.S. 551 (2005)). Based on that holding, appellant filed a motion to correct void sentence, claiming that Roper removed the death penalty as a sentencing option due to appellant's age. After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion, finding both that appellant waived his right to challenge his sentence and even if he had not waived the right, Roper did not apply so as to retroactively invalidate his sentence of life without parole. After its review, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded: (1) appellant, despite signing the plea agreement, cannot, according to Georgia case law, "bargain away" the right to challenge an illegal and void sentence; (2) appellant's sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was void as a sentence not allowed by law and the trial court's order denying the motion to correct void sentence was reversed. View "Moore v. Georgia" on Justia Law
Following the denial of her motion for new trial, Chanell Pitts appealed her convictions and misdemeanor sentences for 2011 violations of OCGA 20-2-690.1(the "mandatory education statute"). Her sole challenge was to the constitutionality of the statute. Finding no error in the trial court’s denial, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pitts v. Georgia" on Justia Law
Defendant was indicted in superior court for armed robbery and other offenses even though he was 16 years old at the time of the alleged crimes. Defendant moved to transfer the case to juvenile court. Although the superior court found that no money was actually physically removed from the cash register, the trial court denied the motion to transfer, concluding that a taking and thus an armed robbery had occurred. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The court held that the Court of Appeals correctly affirmed the superior court's denial of the motion to transfer where the single act of pulling a cash drawer out from the register constituted the requisite change of location.
Appellant, a 15-year-old, was convicted of murdering her mother and sentenced to life imprisonment plus a consecutive five-year term for firearm possession. At issue was whether the trial court committed reversible error by allowing the State to introduce, over defense counsel's objections, various items of evidence seized from appellant's bedroom during the police investigation, including photographs of her with dyed black hair and dark make-up; a document bearing the words of a "curse;" and seven different inscriptions of song lyrics and quotations attributed to various singers and other artists bearing themes of anguish, enslavement, atheism, and violence. The court held that the evidence was improper prejudicial character evidence where the nature of the evidence was highly inflammatory and evidence of appellant's guilt was entirely circumstantial and not overwhelming. Accordingly, the court could not say that it was highly probable that the error did not contribute to the jury's verdict and therefore, reversed appellant's conviction.