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Revere v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

September 13, 2017

REVERE
v.
THE STATE.

          MELTON, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         Following a jury trial, Jermaine Revere was found guilty of murder and various other offenses in connection with the stabbing death of Angelo Patterson.[1] In his sole enumeration on appeal, Revere contends that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. We affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the record shows that Patterson ran a nonprofit organization that provided assistance to released felons who were attempting to reintegrate into society. Revere was one of the released felons to whom Patterson was serving as a mentor. On August 16, 2011, Patterson picked up Revere from an Atlanta MARTA station and took Revere back to his home, where Revere stabbed him in the throat and the back, killing him. Revere stole Patterson's wallet, and he left the scene in Patterson's car. When he was called to meet with his probation officer about a week later, Revere drove to the appointment in Patterson's car, but he parked the car away from the building and hid the keys to the car so that his probation officer would not find them on him at the meeting.

         At trial, Revere testified that he had stabbed Patterson by accident while acting in self-defense. Specifically, Revere claimed that, while he was lying down on a sofa in Patterson's home, Patterson made an unwanted sexual advance upon him. According to Revere, he then jumped up from the sofa to confront Patterson about his actions, and Patterson began backing away from Revere to reach for something that Revere suspected was a knife. However, before Patterson could grab anything, Revere claims that he charged at Patterson, pushed him out of the way, grabbed the knife himself, and stabbed Patterson in the neck by accident while making a gesture to get Patterson away from him. Revere then claimed that he dropped the knife on top of Patterson after Patterson fell to the ground, which caused the stab wound to Patterson's back. The State's medical examiner testified that, although Patterson had no defensive wounds on his hands to indicate that he had been trying to defend himself from Revere's attack when he was stabbed in the neck, the large neck injury had components of both a deep stab wound and a cutting wound, indicating that Patterson was trying to turn away while he was being stabbed. The medical examiner also testified that it would not be possible for a knife to be dropped onto Patterson's body from a height of six feet or less to create the type of cutting wound inflicted on his back, as such a wound would have had to have occurred while "the weapon was held and driven with strength by an individual wielding the weapon."

         The jury was authorized to reject Revere's contentions that the stabbing took place by accident or while he was acting in self-defense and find that Revere was 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); Roper v. State, 281 Ga. 878 (1) (644 S.E.2d 120) (2007) (witness credibility is for jury to decide, as is the question of justification; therefore, jury is free to reject claim that defendant acted in self-defense).

         2. Revere contends that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to (a) object or request a mistrial after three of the State's witnesses improperly placed Patterson's character in issue, and (b) introduce evidence of Patterson's prior felony convictions to rebut or impeach the State's improper character evidence. We disagree.

In order to succeed on his claim of ineffective assistance, [Revere] must prove both that his trial counsel's performance was deficient and that there is a reasonable probability that the trial result would have been different if not for the deficient performance. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674) (1984). If an appellant fails to meet his or her burden of proving either prong of the Strickland test, the reviewing court does not have to examine the other prong. Id. at 697 (IV); Fuller v. State, 277 Ga. 505 (3) (591 S.E.2d 782) (2004). In reviewing the trial court's decision, "'[w]e accept the trial court's factual findings and credibility determinations unless clearly erroneous, but we independently apply the legal principles to the facts.' [Cit.]" Robinson v. State, 277 Ga. 75, 76 (586 S.E.2d 313) (2003).

Wright v. State, 291 Ga. 869, 870 (2) (734 S.E.2d 876) (2012).

         (a) Three witnesses with whom Patterson had lived and to whom, like Revere, he had served as a mentor, testified at trial. These State's witnesses were Sanchez Griffin, Shannon Williams (Griffin's brother), and Brittani Ledford. Revere contends that these witnesses improperly placed Patterson's good character in issue and that trial counsel should have objected or moved for a mistrial in response to the testimony from these witnesses when (1) Griffin was asked why he chose Patterson as a mentor and he testified that it was because Patterson was a "good dude;" (2) Williams testified that Patterson was "like a father to [him]" and that he did not know where he would have gone if it had not been for Patterson taking him in; and (3) in response to questions about whether Patterson had ever made inappropriate sexual advances on her or any of his mentees, Ledford testified that Patterson had not, and that she knew "that he wouldn't have[, ] [because] [t]hat's not his character." For the reasons that follow, we agree with Revere that counsel should have objected to these inadmissible statements and that he performed deficiently by failing to do so. However, we do not find that there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different if not for counsel's deficient performance.

         The admissibility of the aforementioned testimony is controlled by OCGA § 24-4-404 (a) (2) (Rule 404 (a) (2)) and § 24-4-405 (a) (Rule 405 (a)) of Georgia's new Evidence Code.[2] Pursuant to Rule 404 (a) (2):

Evidence of a person's character or a trait of character shall not be admissible for the purpose of proving action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion, except for . . . [s]ubject to the limitations imposed by Code Section 24-4-412 [dealing with a witness's past sexual history], evidence of a pertinent trait of character of the alleged victim of the crime offered by an accused or by the prosecution to rebut the same; or evidence of a character trait of peacefulness of the alleged victim offered by the prosecution in a homicide case to rebut evidence that the alleged victim was the first aggressor.

          And, under Rule 405 (a):

In all proceedings in which evidence of character or a trait of character of a person is admissible, proof shall be made by testimony as to reputation or by testimony in the form of an opinion.

         Consistent with Federal Rule of Evidence 404 (a) (2), the Rule upon which Georgia's Rule 404 (a) (2) is based, the State may only introduce evidence of a victim's good character to rebut evidence of a pertinent character trait of the victim after the defendant has first ...


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