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State v. Hudson

Supreme Court of Georgia

March 15, 2018

THE STATE
v.
HUDSON

          NAHMIAS, JUSTICE

         The specific question presented by this case is whether OCGA § 49-4A-9 (e) gives a superior court the authority to reduce the original prison sentence imposed on a defendant who was under age 17 when he committed an armed robbery. Because the discretion given to sentencing courts by § 49-4A-9 (e) is limited by the mandatory minimum sentence requirements of OCGA § 17-10-6.1, we hold that the superior court erred in reducing Timothy Hudson's original prison sentence for armed robbery. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals' judgment to the extent that it affirmed that reduced sentence.

         1. On January 2, 2015, Hudson turned 16. Twenty-four days later, he and two accomplices held a man at gunpoint and stole the man's car, wallet, and cell phone. All three perpetrators were arrested later that day. Hudson was indicted as an adult for hijacking a motor vehicle, armed robbery, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, fleeing and attempting to elude, and obstruction of a law enforcement officer. On June 16, 2015, Hudson entered a negotiated plea in the superior court, pleading guilty to the armed robbery, aggravated assault, firearm possession, and obstruction charges. The State nol prossed the hijacking and fleeing counts. The State agreed to a sentence of ten years - five in prison and five on probation - for the armed robbery conviction, which otherwise would have required a minimum prison sentence of ten years with no option of probation or parole, see OCGA § 17-10-6.1 (b) (1), (e). The court imposed that sentence and also sentenced Hudson to concurrent prison terms of five years for aggravated assault and one year for obstruction and a consecutive prison term of five years for firearm possession. Hudson began serving his sentences at a youth detention facility under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

         Six months later, as Hudson's 17th birthday approached, the superior court held a hearing with Hudson and the State to "determine if [Hudson], upon becoming 17 years of age, should be placed on probation, have his . . . sentence reduced, be transferred to the Department of Corrections for the remainder of the original sentence, or be subject to any other determination authorized by law." OCGA § 49-4A-9 (e). The court, impressed by accounts of Hudson's excellent behavior at the youth detention facility, entered an order reducing his sentences, over the State's objection. The court reduced Hudson's prison sentence for armed robbery to one year commuted to time served, with the remaining nine years to be served on probation. The court probated the remaining aggravated assault sentence, commuted the obstruction sentence to time served, and suspended the five year sentence for firearm possession. In accordance with these modifications, the court also entered an order to release Hudson from custody onto probation. The State appealed the resentencing and release orders.

         The Court of Appeals affirmed the superior court's orders in a divided nine-judge decision. See State v. T.M.H. 339 Ga.App. 628 (794 S.E.2d 201) (2016). The five-judge majority opinion held that the superior court was authorized by OCGA § 49-4A-9 (e) to reduce Hudson's sentences. See T.M.H., 339 Ga.App. at 630-635. One judge concurred only in the judgment. See id. at 635. And three judges dissented, contending that OCGA § 17-10-14 (a) prohibited the resentencing. See T.M.H., 339 Ga.App. at 635-637 (Ray, J., dissenting). This Court granted the State's petition for certiorari.

         2. OCGA § 49-4A-9 (e) says, with emphasis added:

Any child under 17 years of age who is sentenced in the superior court and committed to the [Department of Juvenile Justice] may be eligible to participate in all juvenile detention facility programs and services including community work programs, sheltered workshops, special state sponsored programs for evaluation and services under the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and under the general supervision of juvenile detention facility staff at special planned activities outside of the juvenile detention facility. When such a child sentenced in the superior court is approaching his or her seventeenth birthday, the department shall notify the court that a further disposition of the child is necessary. The department shall provide the court with information concerning the participation and progress of the child in programs described in this subsection. The court shall review the case and determine if the child, upon becoming 17 years of age, should be placed on probation, have his or her sentence reduced, be transferred to the Department of Corrections for the remainder of the original sentence, or be subject to any other determination authorized by law.

         The State argues that the emphasized language does not apply to Hudson because OCGA § 17-10-14 (a) requires that he be transferred to the Department of Corrections to serve the remainder of his original sentence when he turns 17.[1] Which juvenile offenders come within the scope of § 49-4A-9 (e) and how that provision interacts with § 17-10-14 (a) are difficult questions requiring meticulous examination of not only those two provisions but the rest of each Code section and their broader statutory and legal contexts.[2] The Court of Appeals decided those questions, but it did not need to, and we do not decide them today; because the Court of Appeals' holdings on those questions were unnecessary to decide this case, they should be treated as dicta only. See Mortgage Alliance Corp. v. Pickens County, 294 Ga. 212, 213 (751 S.E.2d 51) (2013).

         Regardless of whether § 49-4A-9 (e) applies to Hudson, his sentence for armed robbery is controlled by OCGA § 17-10-6.1. Under that statute, the mandatory minimum ten-year prison sentence for armed robbery cannot be probated without the State's agreement. Accordingly, the superior court's reduction of Hudson's armed robbery prison sentence was improper.[3]

         3. OCGA § 17-10-6.1 was enacted in 1994 as part of a Sentence Reform Act based on a constitutional amendment that expressly authorized mandatory minimum prison sentences for serious violent felonies. See Ga. L. 1994, p. 2015. The mandatory sentence legislation "was introduced to make truth in sentencing a reality, by ensuring that upon the conviction for a serious violent felony, the offender will serve the full sentence ordered by the court." Campbell v. State, 268 Ga. 44, 45-46 (485 S.E.2d 185) (1997). As relevant to Hudson, OCGA § 17-10-6.1 (b) (1) says:

Except as provided in subsection (e) of this Code section, any person convicted of the serious violent felony of . . . armed robbery shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of ten years, and no portion of the mandatory minimum sentence imposed shall be suspended, stayed, probated, deferred, or withheld by the sentencing court.

         Subsection (e) of the Code section says:

In the court's discretion, the judge may depart from the mandatory minimum sentence specified in this Code section for a person who is convicted of a serious violent felony when the prosecuting attorney and the defendant have agreed to a sentence that is below such mandatory minimum.

         Hudson's original sentence took advantage of this exception, as the State agreed that his ten-year mandatory prison sentence could be reduced to five years, with the remaining five years of his sentence served on probation. At no point, however, did the State agree that Hudson could spend nine years of that sentence on probation. Thus, under OCGA § 17-10-6.1, Hudson was required to serve five years in prison and then five years on probation for his armed robbery conviction.[4]

         Even assuming OCGA § 49-4A-9 (e) applies to Hudson, the superior court's review of his sentence under that provision as he approached age 17 would not change the result dictated by § 17-10-6.1. "[A]ll statutes relating to the same subject matter are to be construed together, and harmonized wherever possible." Hartley v. Agnes Scott College, 295 Ga. 458, 462 (759 S.E.2d 857) (2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Harmonizing statutes means giving effect to each of them. See Goldberg v. State, 282 Ga. 542, 546-547 (651 S.E.2d 667) (2007) ("[I]t is a basic rule of construction that a statute or constitutional provision should be construed to make all its parts harmonize and to give a ...


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