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Atkins v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

September 20, 2017

ATKINS
v.
THE STATE

          MCFADDEN, P. J., BRANCH and BETHEL, JJ.

          BETHEL, JUDGE.

         Monica Atkins was convicted on charges of aggravated child molestation and child molestation. She appeals from the denial of her motion for a new trial arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions and that the trial court applied the wrong standard of review to her motion. While we find the that evidence in this case was sufficient to support Atkins' convictions, we otherwise agree with Atkins that the trial court failed to apply the correct standard of review in considering her motion for a new trial. We therefore vacate the trial court's denial of Atkins' motion and remand the case to the trial court for proper consideration of that motion.

In resolving [Atkins'] challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we view the evidence in a light favorable to the jury's verdict. Weighing the evidence and determining witness credibility are beyond the purview of this court. We simply assess whether the evidence was sufficient to find [Atkins] guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Smith v. State, 320 Ga.App. 408, 409 (1) (740 S.E.2d 174) (2013) (citation and punctuation omitted).

         The evidence[1] shows that after learning she was pregnant, A. O., who was thirteen years old at the time, called Atkins and told her she was pregnant by Atkins' husband. Atkins' husband denied both paternity and sexual contact with A. O. A. O.'s mother reported the incident to police.

         During her initial interview with law enforcement, A. O. claimed that in August 2010 while sleeping on the floor of Atkins' apartment, she awoke to find Atkins' husband on top of her having sex with her. Nine days later during her forensic interview, A. O. alleged for the first time that a prior incident occurred in June or July of 2010 in which she engaged in sexual acts with Atkins and her husband at their previous residence. Atkins was indicted on charges of aggravated child molestation and child molestation.[2]

         At the time of trial, A. O. was sixteen years old. She testified that Atkins only used her hands to touch her thighs and breasts during the alleged incident. However, the recording of A. O.'s forensic interview was played for the jury, and in it, A. O. specifically claimed that Atkins touched A. O.'s breasts, undressed her, and that Atkins placed her mouth on A. O.'s vagina.

         Atkins maintained her innocence and testified that she never performed oral sex on A. O. or touched A. O.'s breasts or thighs. A jury found Atkins guilty on both counts. Following the verdict, Atkins moved for a new trial, and the trial court denied her motion. This appeal followed.

         1. While Atkins acknowledges that A. O.'s testimony did not require corroboration and was generally sufficient to establish a fact, Atkins contends that A. O.'s in-court testimony was legally insufficient to convict her. We disagree.

         Under Georgia law, a person commits the offense of child molestation when she "[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). "A person commits the offense of aggravated child molestation when such person commits an offense of child molestation which act physically injures the child or involves an act of sodomy." OCGA § 16-6-4 (c). Count three of the indictment charged that Atkins did "an immoral and indecent act to, in the presence of and with A. O., a child under the age of sixteen years, by placing [Atkins'] mouth on [A. O.'s] female sex organ, with the intent to arouse and satisfy [Atkins'] sexual desires; said act involving an act of sodomy[.]" In its charge to the jury, the trial court defined an act of sodomy as "performing or submitting to a sexual act involving the sex organs of one and the mouth or anus of another."

         Although A. O. testified at trial that Atkins only used her hands to touch A. O.'s thighs and breast during the alleged incident, the State presented A. O.'s prior statement from her forensic interview in which A. O. described with specificity that Atkins performed oral sex, an act of sodomy, on her.[3] Atkins' assertion of inconsistencies between A. O.'s trial testimony and the statements A. O. made during her forensic interview goes to the weight of A. O.'s testimony and her credibility as a witness, not to the sufficiency of the evidence persented. It is for a jury, not this Court, to resolve conflicts in the testimony, weigh the evidence, and draw reasonable inferences from the evidence. Rudisail v. State, 265 Ga.App. 293, 294 (2) (593 S.E.2d 747) (2004). "As long as there is some competent evidence, even though contradicted, to support each fact necessary to make out the State's case, the jury's verdict will be upheld." Id. (citation omitted). Thus, the evidence adduced was legally sufficient to support Atkins' convictions.

         2. Notwithstanding our holding in Division 1, we agree with Atkins that the trial court applied the wrong standard when reviewing her motion for new trial based on general grounds.

OCGA § 5-5-20 authorizes the trial court to grant a new trial in any case when the verdict of a jury is found contrary to evidence and the principles of justice and equity, and OCGA § 5-5-21 empowers the trial court to grant a new trial where the verdict may be decidedly and strongly against the weight of the evidence even though there may appear to be some slight evidence in favor of the finding. Read together, the statutes provide the trial court broad discretion to sit as a thirteenth juror and weigh the evidence on a motion for new trial alleging the foregoing general grounds. Our sovereign, the law, has in effect ...

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