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Rodriguez v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Second Division

October 27, 2017


          BARNES, P. J., MILLER, P. J., and DOYLE, J.

          Doyle, Judge.

         Following a jury trial, Onofre Rodriguez, Jr., appeals from his conviction for committing reckless conduct by an HIV-infected person.[1] He contends that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he was an HIV-infected person, as that term is defined by the applicable Code section, OCGA § 31-22-9.1. Because the State failed to adduce sufficient evidence to prove this element, we reverse.

         Construed in favor of the verdict, [2] the evidence shows that 43-year-old S. F. became acquainted with 29-year-old Rodriguez when he came to her house to visit her grandson. After a few more encounters, S. F. invited Rodriguez to go dancing with her on a Saturday night, and he agreed. After an evening of dancing, S. F. and Rodriguez went back to S. F.'s apartment where they engaged in consensual sexual intercourse. S. F. insisted that Rodriguez use a condom, but during intercourse she noticed that he was no longer wearing the condom. S. F. ended the intercourse and demanded to know why Rodriguez had removed the condom. Rodriguez responded that he was sorry and reluctantly told her, "I am HIV positive. I just carry the virus."

         S. F. immediately sought medical advice and the following day, Sunday, reported the incident to the police. On Monday, S. F. went to the health department with Rodriguez to get herself tested and to confirm that Rodriguez was HIV positive. After individual counseling at the health department, S. F. privately spoke with Rodriguez and asked him to prove his status to her. He resisted, and she waited in the parking lot; eventually, Rodriguez met S. F. in the parking lot and handed her a single-page document from Quest Diagnostics purporting to show that he had tested positive for the presence of HIV infection. Later testing of S. F. revealed that she did not contract HIV.

         Based on S. F.'s report, police contacted Rodriguez, who agreed to speak to them at the police department. During the interview, Rodriguez admitted that he was "HIV positive" and that he had had sex with S. F. without telling her of his status beforehand. Based on the interview, police obtained a warrant for Rodriguez's arrest, and he was charged with one count of reckless conduct by engaging in sexual intercourse without first disclosing that he is an HIV-infected person. Following a jury trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to ten years imprisonent. Rodriguez now appeals from the denial of his motion for new trial.

         Rodriguez contends that the evidence was insufficient to support the guilty verdict because the State failed to prove an essential element of the crime, i.e., that Rodriguez is an "HIV infected person" as that term is defined by statute. Based on the record in this case, and the controlling statutory authority, we agree.

         When an appellate court reviews the sufficiency of the evidence, "the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt."[3]

         We begin with the axiom that "[t]he State bears the burden of proving every essential element [of an offense]. . . and the fact that a defendant does not affirmatively challenge an element at trial does not relieve the State of this burden, nor does it justify the conclusion that the defendant stipulates to the existence of that element."[4]

         The essential elements of a crime are prescribed by the applicable statutory provisions.[5] When reading these provisions,

[w]e must also bear in mind . . . that where the statutory language is plain and susceptible of but one natural and reasonable construction, the court has no authority to place a different construction upon it, but must construe it according to its terms. In addition, a statute must be construed in relation to other statutes of which it is a part, and all statutes relating to the same subject-matter, briefly called statutes "in pari materia, " are construed together, and harmonized wherever possible, so as to ascertain the legislative intendment and give effect thereto.[6]

         In sum, "[t]hough we may review the text of the provision in question and its context within the larger legal framework to discern the intent of the legislature in enacting it, where the statutory text is clear and unambiguous, we attribute to the statute its plain meaning, and our search for statutory meaning ends."[7]

         Here, the elements of the crime are set forth in OCGA § 16-5-60 (c) ("HIV Reckless Conduct Statute"):

A person who is an HIV infected person who, after obtaining knowledge of being infected with HIV . . . [k]nowingly engages in sexual intercourse . . . and . . . does not disclose to the other person the fact of that infected person's being an HIV infected person prior to that intercourse or sexual act . . . is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than ten years.

         Importantly, subsection (a) of the same Code section provides that "[a]ny term used in this Code section and defined in Code Section 31-22-9.1 shall have the meaning provided for such term in Code Section 31-22-9.1."[8] Thus, the statute requires that certain terms in the HIV Reckless ...

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