Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address whether Georgia’s new Juvenile Code required a party to follow the interlocutory appeal procedures laid out in OCGA 5-6-34 (b) when appealing an order concerning the transfer of a case from juvenile to superior court. The Court held that it did not and, in so doing, reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to be decided on the merits. View "In the Interest of K.S., a child" on Justia Law

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Robert Veal was convicted for crimes committed in the course of two armed robberies on November 22, 2010. After a jury found Veal guilty of malice murder and other offenses charged in the indictment against him, the trial court sentenced him to imprisonment for life without parole (“LWOP”) for malice murder; six consecutive life sentences for rape, aggravated sodomy, and four armed robbery convictions; and sentences totaling 60 consecutive years for other convictions involved in the case. Veal argued in his first appeal that because he was under 18 years of age at the time of his crimes, his LWOP sentence was improperly imposed. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed; the trial court made no determination on the record with respect to whether Veal was “irreparably corrupt or permanently incorrigible, as necessary to put him in the narrow class of juvenile murderers for whom an LWOP sentence was proportional under the Eighth Amendment.” Accordingly, the Court vacated the LWOP sentence and remanded the case for resentencing on that count. At the sentencing hearing the trial court conducted on remand, the State announced it would forgo seeking LWOP and, instead, asked the court to impose two additional consecutive life with parole sentences (for the malice murder conviction and one of the armed robbery counts that the trial court previously incorrectly merged with the murder conviction) in addition to the other consecutive life sentences already imposed. Veal introduced published life expectancy tables to support his assertion that the recommended sentence would exceed his life expectancy. The trial court, however, rejected Veal’s assertion that this would amount to a de facto life without parole sentence, and imposed the State’s recommended sentence without making an individualized determination regarding the appropriateness of the sentence pursuant to Miller. Finding no reversible error to this sentence, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Veal v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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This case presented the issue of whether a trial court has authority to dismiss a prosecutor’s notice of intent to seek the death penalty prior to trial. Appellant Tracen Franklin was eighteen years old at the time of the events involved in this case. He was one of four young men indicted for malice murder and felony murder (predicated on aggravated assault) for beating and kicking to death Bobby Tillman after a teen party. Several trial witnesses identified Franklin as one of three others who joined in, and the four men severely beat, kicked, and stomped Tillman, who was later pronounced dead at the hospital as a result of a ruptured right ventricle of the heart caused by blunt impact. After a period of jury deliberation, the trial court declared the jury to be deadlocked on the issue of punishment. The trial court then sentenced Franklin to life without parole. The trial court denied Franklin’s motion for new trial. On appeal, Franklin claimed the prosecutor sought the death penalty in this case in bad faith, in an attempt to improve the odds of a conviction by seating a death-qualified jury. Even though the death penalty was not imposed, Franklin argued the Georgia Supreme Court should have granted a new trial where a bad-faith purpose for seeking the death penalty is shown. He argued that bad faith was demonstrated in this case because, pursuant to the notice of statutory aggravating circumstances and the evidence the State could (and ultimately did) present in support of these circumstances, he was not eligible for the death penalty as a matter of law. The Supreme Court determined the issue raised by Franklin’s appeal had been decided adversely to appellant’s position, and the Court was not persuaded to change its longstanding ruling on the issue. View "Franklin v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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 question[]submitted.” View "In the Interest of J.F." on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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