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State v. Randle

Court of Appeals of Georgia

March 5, 2015

THE STATE
v.
RANDLE

Page 725

Cert. applied for.

Sex offender registry. Coweta Superior Court. Before Judge Duffey, Senior Judge.

Judgment affirmed.

Peter J. Skandalakis, District Attorney, Robert W. Mooradian, Assistant District Attorney, for appellant.

The Kirk Law Firm, Christa L. Kirk, for appellee.

BARNES, Presiding Judge. Miller and Boggs, JJ., concur. Doyle, P. J., concurs in judgment only. Ellington, P. J., Dillard and Branch, JJ., dissent.

OPINION

Page 726

Barnes, Presiding Judge.

The trial court granted Petitioner Randle's request to be released from Georgia's sex offender registration requirements. The State filed an application for discretionary appeal, which we granted. This appeal followed in which the State contends that because Randle's underlying sexual offense involved physical contact with the genitals of the victim, it created a presumption that the victim suffered " intentional physical harm," precluding Randle's release from the registration requirements. See OCGA § § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D); 42-1-19 (a) (4). The State also argues more generally that Randle had the burden to establish a prima facie case for release from the registration requirements but failed to satisfy it. For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in releasing Randle from the registration requirements and therefore affirm.

The record reflects that in 1993, Randle entered a negotiated plea of guilty pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162) (1970) to one count of child molestation. The indictment alleged that in 1991, Randle committed an act of child molestation by placing his hands on the genitals of a minor. Randle was 21 years old at the time of his conviction. The trial court sentenced Randle to eight years, with the first three years to be served in confinement and the remaining five years on probation. As [331 Ga.App. 2] a result of his conviction and sentence, Randle was required to register as a sex offender in Georgia under the provisions of OCGA § 42-1-12.[1]

Page 727

Randle served his sentence and was released from probation in 2001. In 2002, Randle applied for and obtained restoration of his civil and political rights (excluding certain firearm-related rights) from the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. In 2013, Randle filed a petition for release from the sex offender registration requirements pursuant to OCGA § 42-1-19 (a) (4).

The trial court conducted a hearing on Randle's petition. At the hearing, Randle tendered certified copies of his indictment and sentence for child molestation, the transcript of his plea hearing for that offense, and his criminal history from the Georgia Crime Information Center reflecting no other arrests or convictions. The parties stipulated that Randle had completed all sex offender treatment and assessments required as part of his probation; that he had not committed any probation violations; that he " did well while on probation and as well in his treatment" ; and that he had no additional criminal history.

Randle, then 42 years old, testified that he has had physical custody of his 14-year-old daughter for five years, has been working in the technology field for 15 years and provides for himself and his daughter, and continued treatment after his probation ended because he " felt that it was very helpful." Randle testified that based on what he had learned in his treatment, he " will not put [him]self in a position where anything like this could happen again or even the perception of this [could] happen again." Randle further testified that he has never committed any other offenses and has properly registered as a sex offender every year as required. Randle explained that he wanted to be removed from the sex offender registry so that his daughter would not be bullied by others who might find his registration online. Randle also noted that he would come home and find signs in his yard with his picture on it that stated such things as " sex offender lives here."

On cross-examination, Randle admitted that he had pled guilty under Alford to putting his hands on the genitals of a minor and that there had been physical contact between himself and the victim. Randle further admitted on cross-examination that in light of the victim's age, the victim probably did not like or want the contact.

[331 Ga.App. 3] Randle was the only person to testify at the hearing. The State did not present any evidence, but the prosecutor argued that Randle should not be released from the sex offender registration requirements because he had the burden of making out a prima facie case that the criteria for release had been met but had failed to do so. According to the prosecutor, the evidence of Randle's touching of the child victim's genitals with his hands created a presumption that the victim suffered " intentional physical harm" such that the requirement imposed by OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D) for release had not been met. See OCGA § 42-1-19 (a) (4).

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court remarked that while the court had never before released someone from the sex offender registration requirements, the court would grant Randle's petition under the circumstances here. The trial court noted that Randle's offense occurred 21 years ago, there had been no other incidents since that time, and that based on Randle's testimony at the hearing, the court was " convinced that this will never happen again." The trial court subsequently entered an order granting Randle's petition for release from the sex offender registration requirements pursuant to OCGA § 42-1-19 (a) (4). The State filed an application for discretionary appeal of the trial court's order, and this Court granted the application, resulting in this appeal.

Before turning to the specific arguments raised by the State on appeal, we first address the statutory framework applicable in this case. Under Georgia law, a defendant who is required to comply with the sex offender registration requirements imposed by OCGA § 42-1-12 must do so for his entire life. OCGA § 42-1-12 (f) (6). However, a defendant may petition to be released from the lifetime registration requirements in accordance

Page 728

with OCGA § 42-1-19. OCGA § 42-1-12 (g). Pursuant to OCGA § 42-1-19, a defendant may file such a petition if ten years have elapsed since he completed his term of imprisonment, parole, supervised release, and probation for the underlying sexual offense, and if the six criteria set forth in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (A)-(F) have been met. OCGA § 42-1-19 (a) (4), (c) (2) (A). Those six criteria are:

(A) The defendant has no prior conviction of an offense prohibited by Chapter 6 of Title 16 or Part 2 of Article 3 of Chapter 12 of Title 16, nor a prior conviction for any offense under federal law or the laws of another state or territory of the United States which consists of the same or similar elements of offenses prohibited by Chapter 6 of Title 16 or Part 2 of Article 3 of Chapter 12 of Title 16;
[331 Ga.App. 4] (B) The defendant did not use a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which when used offensively against a person would be likely to or actually did result in serious bodily injury during the commission of the offense;
(C) The court has not found evidence of a relevant similar transaction;
(D) The victim did not suffer any intentional physical harm during the commission of the offense;
(E) The offense did not involve the transportation of the victim; and
(F) The victim was not physically restrained during the commission of the offense.

OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1). If these criteria are met, and " if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the individual does not pose a substantial risk of perpetrating any future dangerous sexual offense," the trial court may enter an order releasing the defendant from the registration requirements. OCGA § 42-1-19 (f).

If requested by the defendant who is petitioning for release from the registration requirements, the trial court must conduct a hearing on the petition. OCGA § 42-1-19 (e). At the hearing, the trial court may consider any evidence introduced by the petitioner, prosecutor, or sheriff, as well as " [a]ny other relevant evidence." OCGA § 42-1-19 (d) (3).

The trial court's decision whether to grant a petition for release from the registration requirements is reviewed on appeal for an abuse of discretion. See In re Baucom, 297 Ga.App. 661, 663 (1) (678 S.E.2d 118) (2009); Miller v. State, 291 Ga.App. 478, 479 (1) (662 S.E.2d 261) (2008). Under this standard, we review the trial court's legal conclusions de novo, and we uphold the trial court's findings on disputed facts and witness credibility as long as they are not clearly erroneous, i.e., as long as the factual findings are supported by any evidence. See Miller, 291 Ga.App. at 479. See generally Lawrence v. Lawrence, 286 Ga. 309, 310 (1) (687 S.E.2d 421) (2009) (discussing abuse of discretion standard of review). Mindful of these standards, we turn to the State's arguments.

1. The State argues that the trial court abused its discretion in releasing Randle from the sex offender registration requirements because the evidence failed to show that " [t]he victim did not suffer any intentional physical harm during the commission of the offense," a statutory prerequisite for release. See OCGA § § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D); 42-1-19 (a) (4). According to the State, the uncontroverted evidence showed that Randle touched the genitals of the child victim with his hands, which created a presumption that the victim suffered [331 Ga.App. 5] " intentional physical harm," precluding Randle's release from the registration requirements. We are unpersuaded because, as we explain below, the term " intentional physical harm" as used in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D) contemplates conduct that goes beyond offensive and unwanted touching and involves the intentional infliction of physical pain or injury upon the victim. Thus, evidence of offensive and unwanted touching, without more, does not show " intentional physical harm."

The term " intentional physical harm" is not defined by OCGA § 17-10-6.2. " In the absence of such a definition, we must look diligently for the intention of the General Assembly. OCGA § 1-3-1 (a)." Summerlin v. Ga. Pines Community Svc. Bd., 286 Ga. 593, 594 (2)

Page 729

(690 S.E.2d 401) (2010). In doing so, we " presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant," and we afford statutory terms their plain and ordinary meaning. (Punctuation and footnote omitted.) Martinez v. State, 325 Ga.App. 267, 273 (2) (750 S.E.2d 504) (2013). See OCGA § 1-3-1 (b) (" In all interpretations of statutes, the ordinary signification shall be applied to all words, except words of art or words connected with a particular trade or subject matter, which shall have the signification attached to them by experts in such trade or with reference to such subject matter." ). And " [w]here the language of a statute is plain and susceptible to only one natural and reasonable construction, [we] must construe the statute accordingly." Chase v. State, 285 Ga. 693, 695 (2) (681 S.E.2d 116) (2009).

Applying these principles, we note that the word " harm" is generally and most commonly understood to mean " damage," " injury," or " hurt," as reflected by the principal definition of the word in several dictionaries. See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 601 (1981) (defining " harm" as " injury or damage" ); Webster's New World College Dictionary 649 (4th ed. 2001) (defining " harm" as " hurt; injury; damage" ); Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged 1034 (1976) (defining " harm" as " physical or mental damage; injury" ). See also Dodds v. Dabbs, Hickman, Hill & Cannon, LLP, 324 Ga.App. 337, 346 (3) (750 S.E.2d 410) (2013) (noting " that dictionaries may supply the plain and ordinary meaning of a word" ). Use of the phrase " intentional physical harm" in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D) has a narrower connotation because it necessarily excludes intentional damage, injury, or hurt that is emotional, psychological, or moral in character. See Black's Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009) (defining " physical harm" as " any physical injury or impairment of land, chattels, or the human body" ). Compare OCGA § 15-11-310 (a) (5) (referring to " serious physical, mental, emotional, or moral harm to such child" ); former OCGA § 15-11-94 (b) (4) (A) (iv) (referring to " serious physical, mental, [331 Ga.App. 6] emotional, or moral harm to the child" ). Consequently, by its plain and ordinary meaning, the phrase " intentional physical harm" in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D) contemplates the intentional infliction of physical damage, injury, or hurt upon the victim, and thus requires evidence of something more than an offensive and unwanted touching.

We would reach the same result even if there were ambiguity in the meaning of the statutory phrase " intentional physical harm" because the canons of statutory construction would lead to the same result. Under those canons,

[a]ll statutes are presumed to be enacted by the General Assembly with full knowledge of the existing condition of the law and with reference to it, and are therefore to be construed in connection and in harmony with the existing law, and their meaning and effect is to be determined in connection, not only with the common law and the Constitution, but also with reference to other statutes and decisions of the courts.

( Footnote omitted; emphasis supplied.) Blackmon v. State, 266 Ga.App. 877, 879 (598 S.E.2d 542) (2004). It follows that in determining the meaning of language found in a statute, " we look to its text as well as the interpretation that courts had given to the same language at the time the statute was enacted." Haley v. State, 289 Ga. 515, 523 (2) (b) (712 S.E.2d 838) (2011). See also Wilson v. Pollard, 190 Ga. 74, 80 (4) (8 S.E.2d 380) (1940) (" [W]here the meaning of words and phrases in a statute has been ascertained, they are to be given that same meaning when used in subsequent statutes[.]" ).

OCGA § 17-10-6.2, including the subsection using the phrase " intentional physical harm," was enacted by the General Assembly in 2006. See Ga. L. 2006, p. 379, § 21/HB 1059; Miller, 291 Ga.App. at 480 (1) (a). The phrase " intentional physical harm" is virtually identical to the phrase " intentionally causes physical harm," which has long appeared in one of the subsections of Georgia's simple battery statute. See OCGA § 16-5-23 (a) (2) (" A person commits the offense of simple battery when he or she ... [i]ntentionally causes physical harm to another." ). And at the

Page 730

time the General Assembly enacted OCGA § 17-10-6.2, Georgia courts had repeatedly construed the phrase " intentionally causes physical harm" in the simple battery statute as " a touching that goes beyond insult to the infliction of pain or physical injury." Hammonds v. State, 263 Ga.App. 5, 7 (2) (587 S.E.2d 161) (2003). See Lyman v. State, 188 Ga.App. 790, 791 (2) (374 S.E.2d 563) (1988); Dinnan v. State, 173 Ga.App. 191, 196 (2) (325 [331 Ga.App. 7] S.E.2d 851) (1984). Based on the canons of statutory construction, we presume that in adopting the phrase " intentional physical harm" in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D), the General Assembly was aware of the virtually identical language found in the simple battery statute and how that language had been construed by the courts, and intended for the courts to apply the same legal definition of the phrase as had been developed under our existing jurisprudence. See Summerlin, 286 Ga. at 594-595 (2). Consequently, we conclude that the term " intentional physical harm" as used in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D) refers to conduct by the defendant that goes beyond offensive and unwanted touching to include the intentional infliction of physical pain or injury upon the victim.

The dissent argues, however, that the phrase " intentional physical harm" in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D) should be construed to mean any physical touching of the victim by the defendant in a child molestation case. In support of this argument, the dissent emphasizes that Georgia's aggravated child molestation statute, OCGA § 16-6-4 (c), uses the phrase " physically injures the child" and argues that the General Assembly would have used that same specific phrase if it intended for OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D) to mean the intentional infliction of physical pain or injury.

The dissent's argument is a red herring because both statutory phrases -- " physically injures the child" in the aggravated child molestation statute and " intentionally causes physical harm" in the simple battery statute -- have been construed to mean virtually the same thing, namely, the intentional infliction of physical injury or pain upon the victim. See Dixon v. State, 278 Ga. 4, 8 (2), n. 15 (596 S.E.2d 147) (2004); Hammonds, 263 Ga.App. at 7 (2). In enacting legislation, the General Assembly is presumed to know that the appellate courts of this State have construed two statutory phrases as equivalent. See State v. Kachwalla, 274 Ga. 886, 889-890 (561 S.E.2d 403) (2002). Thus, the fact that the General Assembly chose to use the phrase " intentional physical harm" drawn from the simple battery statute rather than the equivalent phrase " physical injury" drawn from the aggravated child molestation statute is a distinction without a difference, and has no bearing on the outcome in this case.

Additionally, we note that Georgia's sexual battery statute, OCGA § 16-6-22.1 (b), provides that " [a] person commits the offense of sexual battery when he or she intentionally makes physical contact with the intimate parts of the body of another person without the consent of that person." (Emphasis supplied.) If, as the dissent argues, the General Assembly had intended for any physical touching of the victim in a child molestation case to exclude a defendant from potential release from the sex offender registration requirements, [331 Ga.App. 8] the legislature could have simply used the phrase " physical contact" drawn from the sexual battery statute. We must presume that the absence of such language, and the General Assembly's decision instead to use the narrower phrase " intentional physical harm" in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D), " was a matter of considered choice." (Punctuation and footnote omitted.) Gordon v. State, 316 Ga.App. 42, 46 (1) (a) (728 S.E.2d 720) (2012).

For these combined reasons, we conclude that the term " intentional physical harm" as used in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D) refers to conduct by the defendant involving the intentional infliction of physical pain or injury upon the victim. Consequently, contrary to the State's argument, evidence that the underlying sexual offense involved offensive and unwanted touching of the victim does not, standing alone, create a presumption of " intentional physical harm" that precludes a defendant from satisfying the criteria for release imposed by OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D).

Page 731

2. The State also argues more generally that Randle had the burden to establish a prima facie case for release from the sex offender registration requirements, including a showing under OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D) that " [t]he victim did not suffer any intentional physical harm during the commission of the offense," and that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that Randle satisfied that burden.[2] We disagree.

It is true that the burden is on the defendant petitioning for release from the sex offender registration requirements to make out a prima facie case of entitlement to release sufficient to shift the burden to the State to show the contrary. See In re Baucom, 297 Ga.App. at 663 (1); Miller, 291 Ga.App. at 481 (1) (b). But " [w]hat amount of evidence will change the onus or burden of proof is a question to be decided in each case by the sound discretion of the trial court." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) In re Baucom, 297 Ga.App. at 663 (1). Moreover, the statutory criteria for release found in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) are stated in the negative, and because " [i]t is often impossible to prove a negative, ... the degree of proof required to support a negative proposition and to shift the burden must vary, [331 Ga.App. 9] according to the circumstances of the case." Hyer v. C.E. Holmes & Co., 12 Ga.App. 837, 847 (79 S.E. 58) (1913). And if the defendant petitioning for release presents evidence of circumstances from which it could reasonably be inferred " that the negative is in truth the fact," the burden shifts to the State to show " that the negative does not exist." Woods v. State, 233 Ga. 347, 348 (1) (a) (211 S.E.2d 300) (1974) (discussing burden-shifting where case involves " proof of a negative" ).

Here, after considering the parties' stipulations, the certified records tendered into court, and Randle's testimony, the trial court found that Randle had satisfied his prima facie burden of entitlement to release from the sex offender registration requirements. In light of the evidence as previously summarized in this opinion, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion. With respect to OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D), there was evidence that the underlying child molestation offense consisted of Randle touching the genitals of the child victim with his hands, and the trial court was authorized to infer from this circumstance that there was no intentional infliction of physical pain or injury upon the victim, and thus that the sexual offense did not rise to the level of " intentional physical harm" so as to preclude release from the registration requirements. See Division 1, supra; Clark v. State, 328 Ga.App. 268, 271 (3) (761 S.E.2d 826) (2014) (physical precedent only) (offense that was committed by touching victim " did not involve ... any of the ... factors listed in OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1)" ). Accordingly, the trial court's order granting Randle's petition for release is affirmed.

Judgment affirmed.

Miller and Boggs, JJ., concur. Doyle, P. J., concurs in judgment only. Ellington, P. J., Dillard and Branch, JJ., dissent.

DISSENT

Branch, Judge, dissenting.

Randle entered a guilty plea to a charge of child molestation in 1993. Randle now petitions to be released from sex offender registry requirements pursuant to OCGA § 42-1-19 (a) (4), which a judge may grant if certain conditions are met, including that " [t]he victim did not suffer any intentional physical harm during the commission of the offense,"

Page 732

OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D), and that " the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the individual does not pose a substantial risk of perpetrating any future dangerous sexual offense." OCGA § 42-1-19 (f). The trial court granted Randle's petition and the State appealed, arguing that Randle, who touched the genitals of a ten-year-old boy, cannot show that his victim did not suffer " intentional physical harm." The majority would affirm, holding that " evidence of offensive and unwanted touching, without more, does not [331 Ga.App. 10] show 'intentional physical harm.' " I respectfully dissent because Randle's touching of the genitals of his child victim amounted to " intentional physical harm" such that he is not eligible to be released from sex offender registry requirements.[3]

" For purposes of statutory interpretation, a specific statute will prevail over a general statute, absent any indication of a contrary legislative intent." Vines v. State, 269 Ga. 438, 440 (499 S.E.2d 630) (1998). The majority's reliance on law relating to the crimes of battery and sexual battery to define " intentional physical harm" is thus misplaced; instead, we should consult the child molestation statutes to address the unique harms caused by sexual crimes against a child.

A person commits child molestation if that person " [d]oes any immoral or indecent act to or in the presence of or with any child under the age of 16 years with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the person." OCGA § 16-6-4 (a) (1) (emphasis supplied). The crime of child molestation thus includes sexually motivated acts that involve both touching and not touching a child. The crime of aggravated child molestation, however, occurs when a person " commits an offense of child molestation which act physically injures the child or involves an act of sodomy." OCGA § 16-6-4 (c) (emphasis supplied). If the General Assembly had intended that child molestation cases involving the mere touching of a child be excluded from the category of crimes involving " intentional physical harm," OCGA § 17-10-6.2 (c) (1) (D), it certainly could have referred to a distinction between such touching and physical injury, just as it did in the aggravated child molestation statute, OCGA § 16-6-4 (c). But it did not, a decision which we must assume was " a matter of considered choice." Gordon v. State, 316 Ga.App. 42, 46 (1) (a) (728 S.E.2d 720) (2012) (punctuation and footnote omitted). Likewise, the legislature's decision not to use the phrase " physical contact," as in the sexual battery statute that does not necessarily involve a child victim, see OCGA § 16-6-22.1 (b), does not compel the conclusion that in the specific context of authorizing a deviation from a mandatory [331 Ga.App. 11] minimum sentence for a child molester, the term " intentional physical harm" excludes an intentional touching of the victim. The distinctive element of the crime of child molestation, as opposed to the lesser included offense of sexual battery, is that the act or touching occur for the purpose of arousing the sexual desires of either the aggressor or the child victim. See OCGA § § 16-6-4 (a) (1), 16-6-22.1 (b), (d). Randle was convicted of this crime, not sexual battery, and neither we nor the trial court may ignore his established history of touching a child with the intent of gratifying his own sexual desires.

The majority's citations to the law of battery and sexual battery are thus inapposite, and its conclusion that the term " intentional physical harm" necessarily encompasses physical pain or injury to a child victim is error. OCGA § § 17-10-6.2 and 42-1-19 (a) (4) authorize a trial court to deviate from a mandatory minimum sentence imposed on a child molester only when that

Page 733

molestation does not involve touching a child. As this case does involve such physical touching, Randle is not eligible for release from sex offender registry requirements. I therefore dissent.

I am authorized to state that Presiding Judge Ellington and Judge Dillard join in this dissent.


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