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Griffin v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

January 20, 2015

GRIFFIN
v.
THE STATE

Murder. Effingham Superior Court. Before Judge Woodrum.

Robert L. Persse, for appellant.

Richard A. Mallard, District Attorney, Benjamin T. Edwards, Assistant District Attorney, Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula K. Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Meghan H. Hill, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

MELTON, Justice. All the Justices concur. NAHMIAS, Justice, concurring.

OPINION

Page 516

Melton, Justice.

Following a jury trial, Lester Casey Griffin was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter based on misdemeanor battery as a lesser included offense of malice murder, felony murder, two counts of cruelty to children, aggravated battery, and aggravated assault.[1] On appeal, Griffin contends that the resulting convictions must be reversed because the jury rendered inconsistent verdicts. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

1. In the light most favorable to the verdict, the record shows that, on June 28, 2009, two-year-old Dylan Helmey was at home with his younger half-brother, Jaiden, and Griffin, who was babysitting. [296 Ga. 416] Griffin was the live-in boyfriend of Dylan's mother, who had left home at 11:00 a.m. At around 1:30 p.m., Officer Brion Hunt responded to a call that Dylan had stopped breathing. By the time Officer Hunt arrived, Dylan was dead. The next day, an autopsy was performed, and the medical examiner determined that Dylan sustained over one hundred injuries within two hours of his death. The most significant injury was a laceration to the right atrium of Dylan's heart, caused by extreme force. When confronted with the autopsy results, Griffin admitted that he had gotten angry at Dylan and hit the child in the chest. Finally, he admitted that it was not the first time Dylan had been harmed while in his care.

This evidence was sufficient to enable the jury to find Griffin guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

2. In his sole enumeration of error, Griffin argues that his convictions must be reversed because the verdicts were mutually exclusive. Specifically, Griffin maintains

Page 517

that the verdicts were inconsistent because the jury considered the blow to Dylan's chest a misdemeanor for the purposes of the involuntary manslaughter verdict and a felony offense for the purposes of the felony murder verdicts. As a result, Griffin contends that all of his convictions must be reversed, see Jackson v. State, 276 Ga. 408 (2) (577 S.E.2d 570) (2003), and that he should be granted a new trial. See Thomas v. State, 261 Ga. 854 (1) (413 S.E.2d 196) (1992). We disagree.

" Verdicts are mutually exclusive 'where a guilty verdict on one count logically excludes a finding of guilt on the other. (Cits.)' [Cits.]" Jackson v. State, [supra, 276 Ga. at 410 (2)]. While guilty verdicts on involuntary manslaughter and felony murder are not mutually exclusive as a matter of law, Smith v. State, 267 Ga. 372 (6) (477 S.E.2d 827) (1996), a mutually exclusive verdict may be rendered in a particular case where the offenses underlying the felony murder and involuntary manslaughter convictions " reflect that the jury, in order to find the defendant guilty [of both offenses], necessarily reached two positive findings of fact that cannot logically mutually exist." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Flores v. State, 277 Ga. 780, 783 (3) (596 S.E.2d 114) (2004). A mutually exclusive verdict results when the jury finds that the defendant acted with both criminal intent and criminal negligence at the same instant regarding the same victim involving the same act. See id. (finding mutually exclusive verdict where appellant was found guilty of both [296 Ga. 417] felony murder based on aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter based on reckless conduct as to a single homicide victim).

Drake v. State, 288 Ga. 131, 133 (2) (702 S.E.2d 161) (2010). Moreover,

if the predicate offense found by the jury for involuntary manslaughter was simple battery or battery, which are misdemeanor offenses committed with criminal intent, see OCGA § § 16-5-23 (a), 16-5-23.1 (a), then the intent element of the battery offenses would be logically consistent with the mens rea required for the felony offense of cruelty to children on which appellant's felony murder conviction is predicated. See OCGA § 16-5-70 (b); Carter v. State, 269 Ga. 420 (5) (499 S.E.2d 63) (1998) (involuntary manslaughter based on simple battery not inconsistent with felony murder based on cruelty to children).

Id. at 133-134 (2).

This precedent controls the result in this case. In addition to involuntary manslaughter based on simple battery, Griffin was found guilty of felony murder predicated on cruelty to a child, felony murder predicated on aggravated battery, and felony murder predicated on aggravated assault.

Because the predicate offense for involuntary manslaughter was simple battery, it did not require proof of criminal negligence, and the intent element of simple battery was not at all logically inconsistent with the mens rea required for the greater offense of aggravated assault, aggravated battery, or cruelty to children.

(Citations omitted.) Waits v. State, 282 Ga. 1, 3 (2) (644 S.E.2d 127) (2007). Accordingly, Griffin's verdicts were not mutually exclusive, and his convictions must stand.

Judgment affirmed. All the Justices concur.

CONCUR

Nahmias, Justice, concurring.

I join the Court's opinion in full, including its conclusion that the jury's guilty verdict on the count of involuntary manslaughter based on simple battery, a crime requiring criminal intent, is obviously not mutually exclusive of the guilty verdicts on the other counts, which also required findings of criminal intent. Because this case does not involve any crime of criminal negligence, it is not necessary for the [296 Ga. 418] Court to repeat the proposition that " '[a] mutually exclusive verdict results when the jury finds that the defendant acted with both criminal intent and criminal negligence at the same instant regarding the same victim involving the same act.'"

Since the Court does so, however, I again note the serious doubts that I, joined by Justice Blackwell, have recently expressed about the legal and logical basis of that proposition, which this Court first endorsed in Jackson v. State, 276 Ga. 408 (577 S.E.2d 570)

Page 518

(2003). See State v. Owens, 296 Ga. 205, 213 (766 S.E.2d 66) (2014) (Nahmias, J., concurring); Allaben v. State, 294 Ga. 315, 322-325 (751 S.E.2d 802) (2013) (Nahmias, J., concurring). See also Jackson, 276 Ga. at 416-418 (Carley, J., dissenting). I also note that our Court granted a petition of certiorari last month in State v. Springer, Case No. S14G1539, to decide whether Jackson and its progeny should be overruled.

I am authorized to state that Justice Blackwell joins in this concurrence.


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