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State v. Springer

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 29, 2015

THE STATE
v.
SPRINGER

Certiorari to the Court of Appeals of Georgia -- 328 Ga.App. 654.

Peter J. Skandalakis, District Attorney, Anne C. Allen, Assistant District Attorney, for appellant.

Maryellen Simmons, Margaret E. Flynt, for appellee.

Robert D. James, Jr., District Attorney, Leonora Grant, Assistant District Attorney; Gary D. Bergman, amici curiae.

THOMPSON, Chief Justice. All the Justices concur, except Benham and Hunstein, JJ., who dissent. BENHAM, dissenting.

OPINION

Page 107

Thompson, Chief Justice.

We granted the State's petition for writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' decision reversing appellee Roderick Springer's convictions for aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter based on reckless conduct on the ground that these verdicts are mutually exclusive. See Springer v. State, 328 Ga.App. 654 (762 S.E.2d 433) (2014). After reviewing the record and pertinent case law, we hold that under the facts of this case, the jury's guilty verdicts are not mutually exclusive and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. In doing so, we overrule our decision in Jackson v. State, 276 Ga. 408 (577 S.E.2d 570) (2003).

The State presented evidence at trial demonstrating that Springer and a co-defendant exchanged multiple gunshots in a public parking lot, several of which struck the victim, an innocent bystander, causing the victim's death. Springer was indicted on charges of felony murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. At Springer's request, in addition to instructing the jury on the offenses set out in the indictment, the trial court also charged the jury on the lesser included offense of involuntary manslaughter predicated on the misdemeanors of reckless conduct and simple assault. See OCGA § 16-5-3 (a) (involuntary manslaughter unlawful act); OCGA § 16-5-20 (simple assault); OCGA § 16-5-60 (b) (reckless conduct). The jury ultimately found Springer guilty of involuntary manslaughter based on reckless conduct, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of 10 and 20 years imprisonment for involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, respectively, and a consecutive five-year term of imprisonment on the firearm count.

Springer appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing, in part, that his involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault convictions were prohibited under Jackson, supra, a case in which a majority of this Court held that convictions for felony murder predicated on aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter based on reckless conduct are mutually exclusive and, therefore, must be reversed, " because they represent a positive but illogical finding by the jury [297 Ga. 377] that [the defendant] acted with both criminal intent and criminal negligence." Jackson, supra, 276 Ga. at 411. Relying on Jackson, the Court of Appeals vacated

Page 108

Springer's involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault convictions, finding the jury's verdicts are mutually exclusive because there was a reasonable probability that the jury concluded that Springer acted both with and without an intent to harm the victim when he discharged his gun in the parking lot. See Springer, supra, 328 Ga.App. at 657.

1. The State urges us to reconsider our holding in Jackson, arguing that verdicts of guilt for the greater offense of aggravated assault and the lesser included offense of reckless conduct are not mutually exclusive. It points out that under Georgia law, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct are both lesser included offenses of felony murder, and reckless conduct is also a lesser included offense of aggravated assault by attempting to injure. See Reinhardt v. State, 263 Ga. 113, 113-114 (2) (428 S.E.2d 333) (1993), overruled on other grounds, Vergara v. State, 283 Ga. 175, 177 (657 S.E.2d 863) (2008); Shaw v. State, 238 Ga.App. 757, 758-759 (519 S.E.2d 486) (1999). See also OCGA § 16-1-6 (defining included crime). It argues, therefore, that because the offense of reckless conduct is included in the charged crime of felony murder based on aggravated assault, it is illogical to conclude that a conviction for the lesser offense and a conviction of the greater offense are mutually exclusive. Springer takes the position that Jackson was not wrongly decided but asks this Court to hold that a defendant has the discretion to accept mutually exclusive verdicts when it is in his or her interest to do so.

As a general rule, a guilty verdict cannot be challenged on the ground that the jury's verdict of guilt on one count of an indictment is inconsistent with an acquittal on another count. See United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57, 68-69 (105 S.Ct. 471, 83 L.Ed.2d 461) (1984); Dumas v. State, 266 Ga. 797, 799 (471 S.E.2d 508) (1996). Such verdicts are deemed constitutionally tolerable because they may reflect an exercise of lenity by the jury that is not necessarily grounded in its view of the evidence. See Dunn v. United States, 284 U.S. 390, 393 (52 S.Ct. 189, 76 L.Ed. 356) (1932), quoting Steckler v. United States, 7 F.2d 59, 60 (2d Cir. 1925) (" The most that can be said in such cases is that the verdict shows that either in the acquittal or the conviction the jury did not speak their real conclusions, but that does not show that they were not convinced of the defendant's guilt. We interpret the acquittal as no more than their assumption of a power which they had no right to exercise, but to which they were disposed through lenity" ); Dumas, supra, 266 Ga. at 799 (2) (abolition of inconsistent ...


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