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Wallace v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

January 20, 2015


Page 481

Murder. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Brasher.

Brandon Lewis, for appellant.

Paul L. Howard, Jr., District Attorney, Paige Reese Whitaker, Lyndsey H. Rudder, Assistant District Attorneys, Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula K. Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Andrew G. Sims, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.


Page 482

Blackwell, Justice.

Edward Wallace was tried by a Fulton County jury and convicted of murder and other crimes, all in connection with the fatal shooting of Kyle Moore. Wallace appeals, contending that the evidence is legally insufficient to sustain his convictions, that the trial court erred when it admitted certain evidence at trial, and that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. Upon our review of the record and briefs, we see no error, and we affirm.[1]

Page 483

1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence shows that on the evening of May 3, 2007, Wallace, Maurice Aikens, and Ladasha Eison made plans to rob someone at a bus stop near a MARTA station. When Moore -- an African-American high school student who was unknown to the assailants -- arrived at the bus stop, Wallace and Aikens ran up to him and took his empty wallet and cell phone at gunpoint. Moore then was shot multiple times, and he died from his wounds soon afterwards. Eison told her co-workers about the [296 Ga. 389] robbery, identifying Wallace as the shooter. Two days after the shooting, Wallace had the words " unknown killer" tattooed onto his arm and confessed to his girlfriend that he had shot Moore. Ballistics testing confirmed that a 9mm handgun found by police officers in Wallace's bedroom was the gun with which Moore was killed. During a custodial interview, Wallace admitted that he had purchased that gun a few months earlier. Police also found rap lyrics written recently by Wallace, in which he said that he targeted black people and that, if one would not act, Wallace would " lay 'em flat" and " put eight holes in his back."

Wallace points to some conflicts in the evidence and questions the credibility of several witnesses, including Eison. But when we consider the legal sufficiency of the evidence, " we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and leave questions of credibility and the resolution of conflicts in the evidence to the jury." Bradley v. State, 292 Ga. 607, 609 (1) (a) (740 S.E.2d 100) (2013). So viewed, we conclude that the evidence adduced at trial was legally sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Wallace was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (III) (B) (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

2. Wallace contends that the trial court improperly allowed Eison to testify about his character. When asked why she and Aikens did not want Wallace to know where they went after the murder, she testified that they " don't trust [Wallace]." Wallace's lawyer asked to approach the bench, the jury was excused, and the lawyer moved for a mistrial. Finding that Eison's answer only incidentally placed Wallace's character into evidence, the trial court denied his motion for mistrial but cautioned the prosecutor to " steer clear of that area." Wallace's lawyer neither renewed the motion for mistrial nor asked for any additional corrective action. To the contrary, he told the trial court that he was " not requesting any type of curative instructions or anything like that." The trial court agreed not to highlight the issue any further, the jury returned, and the prosecutor resumed her examination of Eison without revisiting the issue. " Where a defendant objects and moves for a mistrial during the examination of a witness, and the trial court denies the motion but takes some corrective action, if the defendant is dissatisfied with that action, he must renew the objection or motion; otherwise, the issue is waived." Wilkins v. State, 261 Ga.App. 856, 858 (2) (583 S.E.2d 905) (2003) (citation and punctuation omitted). Because Wallace failed to renew his motion for mistrial following the trial court's cautionary direction to the prosecutor and instead announced his decision not to request any further corrective

Page 484

action, Wallace has waived this issue on [296 Ga. 390] appeal. See id.; Frazier v. State, 247 Ga.App. 500, 501-502 (544 S.E.2d 198) (2001). See also Phillips v. State, 269 Ga.App. 619, 628 (6) (a) (604 S.E.2d 520) (2004).

Even if the trial court's warning to the prosecutor did not amount to corrective action that triggered an obligation on Wallace's part to renew his motion for mistrial, we find no error. The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Wallace's motion for mistrial, as the testimony about not trusting Wallace was ambiguous and did not indicate that he had committed a crime. See McIlwain v. State, 287 Ga. 115, 117 (4) (694 S.E.2d 657) (2010). Moreover, that testimony was relevant to explain the actions of Eison and Aikens after witnessing Wallace shoot Moore, and it was not inadmissible because it incidentally put Wallace's character in issue. See Cannon v. State, 288 Ga. 225, 228 (4) (702 S.E.2d 845) (2010).

3. Wallace also asserts that the trial court erred when it failed to suppress Wallace's custodial statement as involuntary. " When a court considers whether a statement was voluntary, it must look to the totality of the circumstances, and at trial, the State bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a statement was, in fact, voluntary." Edenfield v. State, 293 Ga. 370, 374 (2) (744 S.E.2d 738) (2013). Wallace's statement was involuntary, he claims, because he was under the influence of cocaine that he had ingested, was fidgety, was seen breaking items in the interrogation room, and did not waive his Miranda [2] rights in writing.

Wallace did tell a detective at the time of his interview that he had ingested cocaine a few hours before he provided the statement. But the detective testified that Wallace did not appear to be under the influence of cocaine or any other drugs, alcohol, or medication, that he appeared to understand his rights and waived them orally, and that he was coherent and answered questions appropriately. See Krause v. State, 286 Ga. 745, 751 (7) (691 S.E.2d 211) (2010); Philmore v. State, 263 Ga. 67, 68 (2) (428 S.E.2d 329) (1993). " The mere fact that [Wallace] may have been somewhat intoxicated at the time of the interview does not automatically render evidence thereof inadmissible." Norton v. State, 293 Ga. 332, 335 (2) (745 S.E.2d 630) (2013) (citations omitted). See also Jones v. State, 285 Ga. 328, 329-330 (2) (676 S.E.2d 225) (2009). Although Wallace at times showed some agitation that the detective indicated was normal for such an interview, there was no evidence that he broke items in the interrogation room. And Wallace " was not required to waive his Miranda rights in writing." Davis v. State, 292 Ga.App. 782, 785 (2) (a) (666 S.E.2d 56) (2008) [296 Ga. 391] (citation omitted). See also Sosniak v. State, 287 Ga. 279, 282 (1) (A) (2) (695 S.E.2d 604) (2010). The detective's testimony was sufficient to show that Wallace knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and gave his statement, and the trial court did not err when it admitted the statement.

4. Wallace further contends that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel at trial. To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance, Wallace must prove both that the performance of his lawyer was deficient and that he was prejudiced by this deficient performance. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (III) (104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674) (1984). To prove that the performance of his lawyer was deficient, Wallace must show that the lawyer performed his duties at trial in an objectively unreasonable way, considering all the circumstances, and in the light of prevailing professional norms. Id. at 687-688 (III) (A). See also Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U.S. 365, 381 (II) (C) (106 S.Ct. 2574, 91 L.Ed.2d 305) (1986). And to prove that he was prejudiced by the performance of his lawyer, Wallace must show " a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694 (III) (B). See also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 391 (III) (120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389)

Page 485

(2000). This burden is a heavy one, see Kimmelman, 477 U.S. at 382 (II) (C), and Wallace falls far short of carrying it.[3]

(a) Wallace claims that his lawyer should have filed a motion to sever his trial from that of his co-defendant, Maurice Aikens. Wallace, however, " has not shown either that a motion should or would have been granted." Dulcio v. State, 292 Ga. 645, 654 (3) (h) (740 S.E.2d 574) (2013). His case was prejudiced, Wallace says, because the evidence against Aikens was overwhelming while the evidence against Wallace was circumstantial. But the evidence of Wallace's guilt is not merely circumstantial, nor is it weaker than the evidence of Aikens's [296 Ga. 392] guilt. And even if the evidence against Aikens were more substantial than the evidence against Wallace, that fact would not itself require severance. See id. " What is more, [Wallace] fails to demonstrate antagonistic defenses, that evidence admissible only against [Aikens] was improperly used against [Wallace], or that the joint trial created any confusion." Id. Accordingly, Wallace cannot establish either a deficiency of his lawyer or prejudice in the failure to request severance. See id.

(b) Wallace also claims that his lawyer should have filed a motion to suppress identification evidence. Although Wallace refers generally to a lack of descriptions by witnesses, he does not specify which witnesses gave objectionable testimony or why it was inadmissible. " It is not this Court's job to cull the record on behalf of the [appellant] to find alleged errors." Maxwell v. State, 290 Ga. 574, 575 (2) (722 S.E.2d 763) (2012) (citation omitted). Wallace has failed to carry his burden to show deficient performance or prejudice as to this claim. See Mitchell v. State, 290 Ga. 490, 492 (4) (a) (722 S.E.2d 705) (2012).

(c) Wallace complains that his lawyer placed Wallace's character in issue during opening statement when the lawyer invoked a racial stereotype about his own client. The lawyer said that Wallace " likened himself to be a rapper. It seems to be very popular now. Young black men want to become rappers, and so they get all these tattoos." Although lawyers ought not unnecessarily inject the race of any party into the proceedings, Wallace has failed to show how this particular statement was unreasonable or prejudicial. See Stephens v. State, 208 Ga.App. 620, 622 (2) (e) (431 S.E.2d 422) (1993) (although racial distinctions are offensive and will be closely scrutinized, " we cannot say that every such reference is prejudicial as a matter of law; to call it a deficiency of counsel as a matter of law might deprive a defendant of an important defense in some cases" ). At trial, his lawyer had to deal with expected evidence of the " unknown killer" tattoo and the rap lyrics written after the murder. The apparent strategy of the lawyer was to attempt to portray these things as commonplace for an aspiring rap artist, not admissions of guilt. " It is reasonable strategy for defense counsel to place disagreeable information before the jury in a manner which he can control rather than allow the subject matter to be presented in a more damaging fashion." Terry v. State, 284 Ga. 119, 122 (2) (d) (663 S.E.2d 704) (2008) (citations omitted). The fact that Wallace now disagrees with his lawyer's tactical choices during opening statement does not require a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel. See Mize v. State, 269 Ga. 646, 655 (11) (501 S.E.2d 219) (1998).

(d) Last, Wallace argues that his lawyer failed to object to the admission of

Page 486

Moore's phone records during the testimony of an [296 Ga. 393] assistant store manager for a cell phone company. The State did not lay a proper foundation, Wallace claims, to establish that the records admitted into evidence were admissible business records. But the witness testified that, as part of her duties, she kept, maintained, interpreted, and itemized phone records for her employer, that the document accurately shows the call details for Moore's phone number on the date of the murder, and that those records are ordinarily kept in the course of the company's business. Although Wallace does not make clear what he believes this foundation was lacking, he does say that the witness should testify from personal knowledge. It appears, however, that an objection based on the asserted lack of a foundation would not have been meritorious. See Santana v. State, 283 Ga.App. 696, 698 (1) (642 S.E.2d 390) (2007) (" The witness's lack of personal knowledge regarding how the records were created does not render them inadmissible, but merely affects the weight given to the evidence." ) (citations omitted). In any event, Wallace has made no showing that a proper foundation could not have been laid if any additional foundation was necessary. See Jackson v. State, 288 Ga.App. 432, 434 (1) (b) (654 S.E.2d 232) (2007). Wallace's lawyer likely made a tactical decision not to object because the State would have asked the witness any additional questions that were necessary to establish the foundation. See Cupe v. State, 253 Ga.App. 851, 855 (3) (a) (560 S.E.2d 700) (2002). See also Brown v. State, 307 Ga.App. 797, 807 (5) (d) (706 S.E.2d 170) (2011) (when and how to raise foundation objections is generally a matter of trial strategy). Accordingly, Wallace has failed to show either that his lawyer's actions were not in the course of trial strategy or that there is a reasonable probability that the result of trial would have been different if the lawyer had objected. See Woodall v. State, 261 Ga.App. 213, 216 (4) (582 S.E.2d 466) (2003).

Judgment affirmed. All the Justices concur.

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