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Woodard v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

March 27, 2015

WOODARD
v.
THE STATE

Page 363

Murder. DeKalb Superior Court. Before Judge Coursey.

Jimmonique R. S. Rodgers, Long D. Vo, Christopher R. Geel, for appellant.

Robert D. James, Jr., District Attorney, Anna G. Cross, 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.

OPINION

Page 364

Nahmias, Justice.

Appellant William Woodard was convicted of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting deaths of two DeKalb County police officers, Eric C. Barker and Ricky L. Bryant, Jr. Although the State sought the death penalty, the jury recommended sentences of life without parole. Appellant now contends that several jury instructions improperly undermined his defense of justification [296 Ga. 804] by lessening the State's burden of proof, and he asserts that his trial counsel were ineffective in failing to object to the trial court's instruction, tracking the language of OCGA § 16-3-21 (b) (2), that a person is not justified in using force in self-defense if he is committing a felony. We affirm.[1]

1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence at trial showed the following. At about 9:00 p.m. on January 15, 2008, Appellant and his friend Mario Westbrook went to a sparsely occupied apartment complex in south DeKalb County to visit Yanita Payne, the mother of one of Appellant's friends. While Appellant was talking on Payne's telephone, he took out a handgun and put it on her table. When she asked why he had the gun, Appellant explained that he knew that off-duty police officers worked security at the complex and patrolled the parking lot and said, " They tote theirs, I tote mine. They draw theirs, I draw mine." Appellant, who had several prior felony convictions, had also told his girlfriend on numerous occasions that he carried his gun " everywhere he go[es]," and whenever they were together and Appellant's girlfriend mentioned that she saw a police officer, he would tell her " that he was under [the] recidivist act and that he wasn't going back to jail, he would have court in the street."

After visiting Payne, Appellant and Westbrook left the apartment complex, but they returned around midnight in a car driven by Herbie Durham to buy beer at an illegal " shot house" run by Major Fields from his apartment across the hallway from Payne's unit. Durham parked the car, which had dark-tinted windows, in front of the building, and Appellant got out and walked up the stairs to the [296 Ga. 805] shot house. Appellant went inside and bought beer, cigarettes, and cigars from Fields using a counterfeit $50 bill. After receiving his change in genuine currency, Appellant left the apartment, but Fields, who by then had realized that the bill was counterfeit, caught up with Appellant before he descended the stairs back to the parking lot.

Page 365

Appellant told Fields that the police were outside, so Fields went back into his apartment.

Officer Barker and Officer Bryant were working off-duty security, in uniform, at the complex. When Appellant walked down the stairs, he encountered Officer Barker in front of Durham's car. The officer said something to Appellant, but Appellant ignored him and got into the front passenger seat. Officer Barker then approached the driver's side of the car. Durham rolled down his window, and the officer told him to turn off the car and present his driver's license; Durham complied. Officer Barker said that he smelled marijuana and asked if there was any marijuana in the car, which Durham denied. The officer then requested identification from Appellant, who reached in his pocket but did not produce any identification.

At this point, Officer Bryant arrived to assist Officer Barker and approached the passenger side of the car. Officer Bryant opened the front door and asked Appellant to get out, but Appellant did not comply. The officer then pulled Appellant out of the car and placed him with his hands on the vehicle. Standing behind Appellant, Officer Bryant started to frisk him, but he began to scuffle, trying to avoid the pat-down. Officer Barker ran around the car to assist Officer Bryant, but as Officer Barker reached the passenger side, Appellant managed to break free from Officer Bryant and draw his gun. Appellant then fired repeatedly at the officers, striking each of them three times before fleeing into the night. Officer Bryant died at the scene, and Officer Barker was pronounced dead at the hospital. Appellant testified at trial, admitting that he shot the officers but claiming that they were beating him when he did so, causing him to fear for his life.

Appellant does not challenge the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions. Nevertheless, in accordance with this Court's practice in murder cases, we have reviewed the record and conclude that the evidence presented at trial and summarized above was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). See also Vega v. State, 285 Ga. 32, 33 (673 S.E.2d 223) (2009) (" 'It was for the jury to determine the credibility of the witnesses and to resolve any conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence.' " (citation omitted)).

[296 Ga. 806] 2. Appellant contends first that several of the trial court's jury instructions improperly undermined his sole defense of justification by lessening the State's burden of disproving his self-defense claim beyond a reasonable doubt. In particular, Appellant challenges the instructions that a police officer has a general duty to enforce the law 24 hours a day, that he lawfully discharges that duty when he arrests an individual who has committed a crime in his presence, and that probable cause for an arrest does not require the quantum of proof necessary for proof of guilt in a trial. Appellant also challenges the instructions regarding police-citizen encounters and the legal requirements for a valid detention or arrest, and he contends that the court erred in instructing the jury that the mere odor of marijuana establishes probable cause for an arrest. We note that Appellant's defense was clearly not, in fact, limited to a customary self-defense claim, but rather focused on his right under Georgia law to forcibly resist an unlawful arrest or an arrest made using excessive force. See Ramirez v. State, 279 Ga. 569, 577 (619 S.E.2d 668) (2005); Mullis v. State, 196 Ga. 569, 577-579 (27 S.E.2d 91) (1943).

Because Appellant did not object to these jury charges on the grounds he now raises before the jury retired to deliberate, appellate review of his claims is precluded unless the particular jury instruction in question was " plain error which affects [his] substantial rights." OCGA § 17-8-58 (b); State v. Kelly, 290 Ga. 29, 33 (718 S.E.2d 232) (2011).[2]

Page 366

An appellate court may ... reverse a trial court for plain error if the instructional error was not affirmatively waived by the defendant, was obvious beyond reasonable dispute, likely affected the outcome of the proceedings, and seriously affected the ...

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