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Jones v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

October 17, 2017


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

          McFadden, Presiding Judge.

         After a jury trial, Kiel Jones was convicted of rape, aggravated child molestation, and incest. Jones appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, the denial of an oral request for a pretrial competency evaluation, the effectiveness of his trial counsel, the appointment of a public defender to assist his visually impaired defense counsel, purported bias by the trial court, the trial court's participation during voir dire, and the sentence imposed for incest. Finding no reversible error, we affirm.

         1. Sufficiency of the evidence.

         In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a criminal conviction, we do not weigh the evidence or resolve conflicts in witness testimony, but instead determine whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Tinson v. State, 337 Ga.App. 83 (1) (785 S.E.2d 914) (2016). So viewed, the evidence shows that when Jones' niece was 11 years old, he forcibly inserted his penis into her vagina, placed his penis on her lips, and ejaculated on her stomach. "The evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to find the essential elements of the crimes of [which Jones was convicted] beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 85-86 (1). See OCGA §§ 16-6-1 (a) (1) (rape), 16-6-4 (c) (aggravated child molestation by act of sodomy), 16-6-22 (a) (6) (incest between uncle and niece).

         2. Competency hearing.

         Jones contends that the trial court erred in denying his counsel's pretrial request for a competency evaluation of Jones. We disagree.

         The record shows that on the call of the case for trial, Jones and the state informed the court that they had negotiated a guilty plea to reduced charges. During the subsequent plea colloquy, Jones told the court that before coming to court he had smoked marijuana and had taken a blood pressure medication and an antidepressant. He later informed the court that he previously was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, and that in 2009 he had been hospitalized for depression. When asked by both the prosecuting attorney and the judge if he understood the proceedings and everything that was happening in court, Jones affirmed that he did understand the proceedings and what was happening. Upon further inquiry by the court, Jones reiterated that he was able to understand the proceedings and continue with the plea. He also told the court that there was nothing about his depression or bipolar disorder that interfered with his ability to understand the proceedings. Defense counsel stated that he was "absolutely certain" that Jones was competent and that he was not laboring under any mental defect. The judge also observed on the record that Jones "looks the same as he's looked every time he's appeared before the [c]ourt. He appears to be coherent, alert, and does not appear, at least in my mind, to be laboring under any type of psychotic or psychiatric issues."

         After further discussion regarding the negotiated plea, Jones decided to withdraw his guilty plea and proceed with a jury trial. At that point, defense counsel made an oral request for a mental health evaluation of Jones. The trial court denied the request, explaining, "You've indicated to the [c]ourt repeatedly that you don't believe your client has any mental health issues and that he's otherwise competent to take this plea. And if he's competent to enter a plea of guilty, he's competent for trial."

          "A criminal defendant's due process right to a fair trial encompasses the right not to be tried or convicted while incompetent to stand trial." Phelps v. State, 296 Ga.App. 362, 364 (1) (674 S.E.2d 620) (2009) (citation omitted). Pursuant to OCGA § 17-7-130 (b) (1), an accused may file a motion requesting that the trial court order a competency evaluation. Although no such motion was filed in this case, "constitutional guarantees require the trial court to inquire into competency, even where state procedures for raising competency are not followed, if evidence of incompetence comes to the court's attention." Phelps, supra (citations omitted).

Mental competency is presumed, so absent evidence of a defendant's incompetency, a trial court need not conduct a competency hearing. [But i]f the court has sufficient information at the time of trial to raise a bona fide doubt about the defendant's ability to understand the proceedings, appreciate their significance, or assist his lawyer in presenting his defense, the court must conduct a competency hearing.

Powers v. State, 314 Ga.App. 733, 734-735 (1) (b) (725 S.E.2d 848) (2012) (citations omitted). In determining whether the trial court violated Jones' procedural due process rights by failing to hold a competency hearing, we must focus on three factors: "(1) evidence of the defendant's irrational behavior; (2) the defendant's demeanor at trial; and (3) prior medical opinion regarding the defendant's competence to stand trial. Such an analysis focuses on what the trial court did in light of what it knew at the time of the trial or plea hearing." Johnson v. State, 209 Ga.App. 514, 516 (2) (433 S.E.2d 717) (1993) (citations and punctuation omitted).

         None of these three factors raised a bona fide doubt about Jones' ability to understand the proceedings and thus the trial court was not required to conduct a competency hearing. The record does not show that Jones engaged in any irrational behavior prior to the start of the trial or that his demeanor exhibited incompetence. On the contrary, the trial court expressly noted on the record that Jones appeared coherent and alert, and a review of the transcript reveals that he responded appropriately to questions. See Flesche v. State, 254 Ga.App. 3, 5 (1) (561 S.E.2d 160) (2002) (throughout proceedings the defendant displayed no outbursts or episodes of disorientation, and he responded coherently to questions). Moreover, "his attorney concluded that he was fully competent to enter a guilty plea, and the court was authorized to take this into consideration in determining the need for a mental evaluation." Perry v. State, 269 Ga.App. 178, 181 (2) (603 S.E.2d 526) (2004) (citation omitted). Accord Flesche, supra. Although the trial court was informed that Jones had previously been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, there was no evidence of a prior medical opinion that such diagnoses rendered Jones incompetent to stand trial. Indeed, Jones himself told the court that there was nothing about those conditions that interfered with his ability to participate in the proceedings. See Traylor v. State, 280 Ga. 400, 404-405 (4) (a) (627 S.E.2d 594) (2006). In light of what the trial court knew at the time of trial, we cannot find that it erred in proceeding without ordering a mental evaluation. See Perry, supra at 182 (2); Flesche, supra.

         3. Ineffective ...

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