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Womac v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

December 11, 2017



         Appellant Lawrence Edward Womac appeals his convictions and sentences for aggravated sexual battery, child molestation, cruelty to children in the first degree, and false imprisonment.[1] On appeal, Womac argues, among other things, that his life sentence for aggravated sexual battery constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Georgia Constitution. For the reasons that follow, and finding no additional error, we affirm.

         Viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence shows that, on July 19, 2013, Womac invited the minor victim, K.W., and her siblings into his motel room. While watching television, Womac placed his hand down K.W.'s shorts and the tip of his finger penetrated her vagina. K.W. removed Womac's hand and then ran into the bathroom to get away from him; Womac followed. Once inside, Womac put his left hand on K.W.'s throat, his right hand on her mouth and squeezed. Womac held K.W. against the toilet to keep her from leaving, kissing her on her neck and shoulders, placing his hands on her buttocks and vaginal area. Womac licked K.W.'s vagina, stating that "he was getting it ready." Then he proceeded to place his penis in her vagina, mouth and buttocks.

         After the incident, K.W. left and, eventually, reported the assault to her father and another motel resident. K.W. also disclosed another incident with Womac that had occurred a few days prior, wherein Womac grabbed K.W. while she was walking outside, pulled her into a nearby building and made her touch his penis with her hands and mouth.

         K.W. was taken to the hospital where a sexual assault examination revealed bruising and abrasions on her arm, leg, and neck, and abrasions and redness around and inside her vagina. The nurse testified that these injuries were consistent with K.W.'s description of what had occurred during the sexual assault.

         Meanwhile, Womac left his motel room and later told his daughter about his plans to leave Georgia and travel to Illinois because he needed to "get away." Law enforcement subsequently searched Womac's room, and though the bedroom had animal feces, urine spots, cockroaches, food, and open containers, the bathroom appeared to have been cleaned with bleach, netting negative results to fluorescence testing for bodily fluids. Officers obtained surveillance footage from the day in question showing K.W. and her siblings entering Womac's room and K.W. later leaving by herself. The State also presented other acts evidence from two witnesses who described previous sexual assaults on minors committed by Womac.

         1. Womac first argues that his life sentence for aggravated sexual battery[2] violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under the Georgia Constitution. According to Womac, his sentence is unconstitutional because K.W.'s lack of consent was presumed by law without the State having to prove that the criminal act of aggravated sexual battery occurred without the victim's consent, and thus the aggravated sexual battery statute is a strict lability crime for which he received an overly harsh life sentence. Cf. Watson v. State, 297 Ga. 718 (2) (777 S.E.2d 677) (2015) (holding that the offense of sexual battery requires the State prove the victim's lack of consent, regardless of the victim's age, and charge the jury on the same). We disagree. In this case, unlike the jury in Watson, the jury was not instructed that a minor is legally incapable of consenting to sexual contact as it applied to aggravated sexual battery.[3] The jury charge on aggravated sexual battery did not suggest that the element of "without consent" was established based solely upon the victim's age; thus, contrary to Womac's assertion, the aggravated sexual battery charge was not a strict liability crime as the jury was required to find that K.W. did not, in fact, consent to the penetration alleged in the indictment. Consequently, we find Womac's constitutional challenge to be without merit.

         2. During its case-in-chief, the State called Womac's daughter, A.W., as an other acts witness; A.W. testified that she had been sexually abused by her father. During direct examination, the following exchange occurred:

Q: Up until the time he was arrested last year did you have any sort of relationship with [Womac]?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: And why was that?
A: I used him for marijuana.

         Womac objected to this testimony and moved for a mistrial. The trial court denied the motion and instructed the jury to disregard A.W.'s statement. ...

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