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State v. Easter

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 1, 2015

THE STATE
v.
EASTER

Certiorari to the Court of Appeals of Georgia -- 327 Ga.App. 754.

Judgment reversed.

Ashley Wright, District Attorney, Madonna M. Little, Amanda N. Heath, Assistant District Attorneys, for appellant.

Mark A. Begnaud, Christopher R. Geel, for appellee.

HUNSTEIN, Justice. All the Justices concur.

OPINION

Page 182

Hunstein, Justice.

We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the Court of Appeals correctly held that the trial court charged the jury on aggravated assault in a manner not alleged in the indictment. Easter v. State, 327 Ga.App. 754 (1) (a) (761 S.E.2d 149) (2014). For the reasons set forth below, we hold that the trial court did not charge the jury on aggravated assault in a manner not alleged in the indictment, and therefore, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the record establishes that Appellee Andra Lamont Easter and DeShawn Ella Coatney had dated and lived together at Coatney's home for over a year before ending their relationship. Easter and Coatney had difficulties during and after their relationship, including Coatney having to call the police several times on Easter after the couple broke up. In response to Easter repeatedly trying to gain access to Coatney's home, she changed the locks several times. On February 17, 2006, Coatney discovered that the front window at her home had been broken while she was at work, and she suspected Easter as the culprit. The next day Coatney arranged curtains over the broken window in a particular way so that she would be able to tell if they had been disturbed when she returned home.

In the early morning hours of February 19, 2006, Coatney returned home from work to find that the curtains had been disturbed. Afraid that Easter might be in her home, Coatney retrieved a gun she kept hidden on the top of her china cabinet and began to search each room of her home. Coatney discovered Easter hiding in a bedroom and saw that he was wearing rubber gloves and holding a crowbar. Coatney started to back out of the room as Easter came toward her holding the crowbar in an upright position. Coatney asked [297 Ga. 172] Easter what he was doing, but he did not answer, and instead, kept walking toward her. Coatney fired one shot, hitting Easter. Undeterred, Easter continued to walk toward her with the crowbar, and Coatney shot him again. Easter then fled the home, Coatney called the police, and Easter surrendered to police later that morning. Easter was indicted for burglary and aggravated assault, and a jury found him guilty on both counts.

Easter appealed the trial court's denial of his motion for new trial, in which he had alleged, inter alia, that the trial court erred in charging the jury on aggravated assault. With respect to the issue relevant to the granted petition for certiorari, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred by giving the jury a charge from which it could have found that Easter had committed aggravated assault by a method not charged in the indictment, i.e., by using a deadly weapon rather than merely an object likely to result in serious bodily injury. Easter, 327 Ga.App. at 759-760.

Easter was indicted for aggravated assault pursuant to former OCGA § 16-5-21 (a) (2),[1] which at the time provided as follows: " A person commits the offense of aggravated assault when he or she assaults ... [w]ith a deadly weapon or with any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury." The indictment in this case alleged that Easter assaulted Coatney " with a crowbar, an object which when used offensively against another person is likely to result in serious bodily injury."

With regard to aggravated assault, the court charged the jury as follows:

A person commits the offense of aggravated assault when that person assaults another person with a deadly weapon or with any object, device or instrument which, when used offensively against a ...

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