Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Lucas v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

February 19, 2018



         Dequontist Lucas was tried by a Cobb County jury and convicted of murder, armed robbery, and other crimes in connection with the fatal shooting of Samuel Steward and the wounding of Demarco Tyler.[1] Lucas appeals, claiming that the trial court erred when it limited his cross-examination of two witnesses for the prosecution. We find no merit in these claims and affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence at trial shows that, on the evening of July 22, 2008, Lucas and an unidentified male companion robbed Steward and Tyler at gunpoint and then shot the two victims. Steward died from a gunshot wound to the head, but Tyler escaped with a relatively minor wound - the bullet only grazed his head. The State's main witness was Quatney Sapee, who was Lucas's girlfriend at the time of the incident. Sapee testified that on the day in question, she drove Lucas and two other men - Kirkland Smith and a man known to Sapee only as "Dreads"[2] - in a Ford Explorer to Marietta, where they apparently planned to visit a "liquor house" "to drink and get high." Lucas and Dreads both were armed with handguns. As they neared the liquor house, Lucas asked to be dropped off, and he and Dreads exited the vehicle.

         Sapee and Smith continued to the liquor house, waited in the liquor house driveway for a few minutes, and then returned to the location at which they had dropped off Lucas and Dreads. There, Sapee saw Lucas and Dreads holding two young men at gunpoint. Smith yelled for Lucas and Dreads to stop what they were doing. Sapee saw Steward shake his head at Lucas, "as if he was saying no or stop." At that point, "the guns went off" and Steward collapsed. Tyler ran, but another shot went off, and he fell also. Sapee testified that she saw Lucas fire the shot that hit Steward.

         After the shooting, Lucas and Dreads hopped back into the car. Smith announced that he was on parole and did not want to go back to jail, but Lucas told him to shut up and ordered Sapee to drive. Lucas also told Smith and Sapee that, if they told anyone about the shooting, he would kill them. As they were driving, Lucas threw a cellphone that he had taken from Steward out the window. He told Sapee that he "couldn't believe [Steward] only had $3" and that Steward would not have been shot if he had more money. After they dropped off Dreads and Smith at their homes, Lucas again told Sapee that if she informed on him, he would kill her. He repeated that threat to Sapee a "hundred" times over the course of their relationship.

         Sapee kept quiet about the shooting for close to three years, until an investigator from DeKalb County interviewed her about another crime committed by Lucas. During that interview, Sapee volunteered information about the murder of Steward, but her statements to the investigator differed somewhat from her trial testimony. Specifically, Sapee told the investigator that, on the day in question, she, Lucas, Smith, and Dreads were riding around looking for someone to rob - an activity she termed "free-picking." The four drove to Marietta, where they came across Steward and Tyler. Lucas told Sapee to pull over, and when Lucas and Dreads got out, Smith told her to drive on because he did not want to be involved. Sapee then drove around the block, and coming back around, saw Lucas and Dreads accosting the two young men. She heard one of the young men say, "I don't have anything, " and then saw Lucas shoot him in the head.

         Another eyewitness, A.L., testified that during the relevant time period, he lived within sight of the scene of the shooting. On the night in question, as A.L. and his wife were driving home, they saw Steward and Tyler standing on the street corner. When A.L. and his wife parked in their driveway, A.L. observed Lucas and another man approach Steward and Tyler. A.L. saw Lucas hit Steward in the back of the head, pull out a gun, and shoot him. At that point, a Ford Explorer drove by and picked up Lucas and his companion. At trial, A.L. positively identified Lucas as the man who shot Steward. A.L.'s wife also testified - she saw one of the assailants knock Steward unconscious and then shoot him while he was lying on the ground - but she could not identify the shooter in court.

         Other evidence presented at trial includes the following. Smith testified for the prosecution, but in contrast to Sapee's testimony, he denied riding in the vehicle with Sapee or being present at all during the incident. Rather, Smith asserted that Lucas later confessed to him that Lucas and Dreads committed the robbery and shooting. Tyler testified that the assailants took his phone and identification card during the course of the robbery. Furthermore, the parties stipulated that Lucas was a convicted felon at the time of the incident, having been previously convicted of a felony involving the use of a firearm.

         Lucas does not dispute that the evidence is sufficient to sustain his convictions. But consistent with our customary practice in murder cases, we independently have reviewed the record to assess the legal sufficiency of the evidence. We conclude that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Lucas was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (III) (B) (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Lucas claims that the trial court erred when it prohibited him from cross-examining A.L. about his immigration status. At the time of trial, A.L. was not lawfully present in the United States. As a result, Lucas argues, A.L. might have been inclined to shade his testimony in favor of the prosecution to avoid deportation. By barring any cross-examination about A.L.'s immigration status, Lucas contends, the trial court violated his right to establish the bias of an important witness for the prosecution. We disagree.

         Like most questions about the admissibility of evidence, the scope of cross-examination is committed in the first instance to the sound discretion of the trial court, and we review a limitation of cross-examination only for an abuse of that discretion. See Nicely v. State, 291 Ga. 788, 796 (4) (733 S.E.2d 715) (2012). That discretion is circumscribed, of course, by our Evidence Code, which provides that the accused is entitled to a "thorough and sifting cross-examination" of witnesses for the prosecution. OCGA § 24-6-611 (b). It also is circumscribed by the confrontation clauses of the United States and Georgia constitutions, [3] which secure, among other things, the right of the accused to cross-examine the witnesses against him. See Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 315 (2) (94 S.Ct. 1105, 39 L.Ed.2d 347) (1974); Miller v. State, 266 Ga. 850, 856 n.1 (472 S.E.2d 74) (1996). And it is settled that this right of cross-examination includes a right to inquire into the partiality and bias of witnesses. See Hodo v. State, 272 Ga. 272, 274-275 (4) (528 S.E.2d 250) (2000). See also OCGA § 24-6-622 ("The state of a witness's feelings towards the parties and the witness's relationship to the parties may always be proved for the consideration of the jury."); Davis, 415 U.S. at 316-317 (2) ("[T]he exposure of a witness' motivation in testifying is a proper and important function of the constitutionally protected right of cross-examination." (Citation omitted)).[4]

         The right to inquire into partiality and bias, however, is not without limits. See Howard v. State, 286 Ga. 222, 225 (2) (686 S.E.2d 764) (2009) ("[T]he right of cross-examination . . . is not an absolute right that mandates unlimited questioning by the defense . . . ." (Citation and punctuation omitted)). As we have explained before, the accused is "entitled to a reasonable cross-examination on the relevant issue of whether a witness entertained any belief of personal benefit from testifying favorably for the prosecution." Hampton v. State, 289 Ga. 621, 626 (5) (713 S.E.2d 851) (2011) (citation and punctuation omitted, emphasis added). "[T]rial courts retain wide latitude to impose reasonable limits on cross-examination based on concerns about, among other things, interrogation that is only marginally relevant." Nicely, 291 Ga. at 796 (4) (citation and punctuation omitted). See also Kolokouris v. State, 271 Ga. 597, 599 (4) (523 S.E.2d 311) (1999) ("Generally speaking, the Confrontation Clause guarantees an opportunity for effective cross-examination, not cross-examination that is effective in whatever way and to whatever extent, the defense might wish." (Citation omitted)). On the record in this case, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion when it disallowed cross-examination of A.L. about his immigration status.

         Before the trial court disallowed that line of cross-examination, it permitted Lucas to examine A.L. outside the presence of the jury. In the course of that examination, A.L. conceded that he was generally concerned about the prospect of deportation. But without more, such a generalized concern does not provide much reason to think that A.L. had cause to shade his testimony in favor of the prosecution. In the first place, the State of Georgia - the prosecution in this case - has no power to deport a person unlawfully present in the United States. Deportation is a matter reserved to the United States. Although we do not doubt that some aliens may not appreciate the distinction between our federal and state governments, nothing in the record suggests that A.L. misapprehended that the prosecuting attorneys or investigating law enforcement officers with whom he dealt had any power to have him deported or to otherwise affect his immigration status. Indeed, about that subject, A.L. said: "I don't know if this has anything to do with immigration or not."

         A.L. was asked whether he was concerned that, if he did not cooperate with the prosecution, "they might call immigration, " and he said that he was not. There is nothing to suggest that anyone associated with the prosecution threatened or intimated anything to A.L. about deportation, that anyone promised to help A.L. with his immigration status, or that A.L. had a subjective belief that cooperating with the prosecution would somehow benefit him with respect to his status. When A.L. was asked whether greater cooperation with law ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.