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Goodrum v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

March 15, 2018

GOODRUM
v.
THE STATE.

          Grant, Justice.

         Following a jury trial in the Superior Court of Troup County, Georgia, Demario Goodrum was found guilty of felony murder and related offenses in connection with the shooting death of Tarvanisha Boyd. In this appeal, Goodrum argues that the trial court violated his constitutional right to be present at all critical stages of his trial, and that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. We affirm. [1]

         I.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence showed that, in December 2014, Boyd and Kristal Sinkfield hosted a party at their home. Boyd, Sinkfield, Goodrum, and several others were in the kitchen playing cards when Goodrum and Boyd got into a heated argument. The two exchanged blows, and Sinkfield stepped between them and pushed Goodrum back. According to Goodrum's testimony at trial, the entire group of people then advanced toward him, backing him up against the stove. Goodrum also claimed that he saw someone hand Boyd a gun, but four eyewitnesses testified that neither Boyd nor anyone else in the room besides Goodrum had a gun that night. Goodrum pulled out a 9 millimeter handgun and shot Boyd in the chest; he then ran out of the house, got into his car, and drove away. Later that night, police investigators found several .40 caliber cartridges, a .380 bullet, and a .25 caliber casing in the front yard, and a possible bullet hole in Goodrum's car. Boyd was taken to the hospital, but later died from the gunshot wound to the chest.

         Police officer William Jones was responding to Sinkfield's 911 call when he saw Goodrum run a stop sign and crash into an elementary school. Officer Jones stopped and questioned Goodrum, who said he had been at a party with his brother-in-law when "they" started shooting, so he left. When Officer Jones asked who was shooting, Goodrum said he didn't know. Goodrum smelled strongly of alcohol and his speech was slow and slurred.

         Although Goodrum does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence admitted at trial, it is our practice in murder cases to review the record and determine whether the evidence was legally sufficient under the standard set out in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). Having done so, we conclude that the evidence introduced at trial and summarized above was legally sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Goodrum was guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted. See id. at 319.

         II.

         Goodrum contends that his state constitutional right to be present at all critical stages of the trial proceedings was violated when the trial court dismissed one of the trial jurors after a discussion in chambers at which he was not present. But Goodrum acquiesced to his absence from that proceeding.

         After closing arguments, the judge told the jury that there would be a "short break" before they received their instructions. The jury and Goodrum then left the courtroom. When the jury and Goodrum returned to the courtroom some time later, the judge explained:

All right, ladies and gentlemen, I know that was a long few minutes that you were in the jury room, but an issue came up while you were out that we had to deal with. And as a result of that issue, it became necessary for me to excuse Mr. Tullis from the jury. So now we're down to 12 jurors. The 12 of you in the box will be the 12 jurors who will be deciding this case.

         Goodrum did not express any concern about or objection to what had occurred to his counsel or the court, and the judge then charged the jury.

         After the jury returned their verdicts, the judge sentenced Goodrum and the jury returned to the jury room to be dismissed. The judge then put on the record in open court more details about what had occurred during the pre-charge break. The judge explained that at some point before the break, the district attorney's office received information that juror Tullis had been previously convicted of a felony; he apparently had acknowledged that fact in the jury assembly room but indicated that he believed his civil rights had been restored. The prosecutor and the court were unable to verify the restoration of the juror's civil rights, so the judge excused the juror, noting that an alternate juror was available. There again is no indication that Goodrum expressed any concern about or objection to the procedure used to excuse the juror.

         Goodrum's counsel did not object to Goodrum's absence from the discussion about the juror's removal, but counsel's waiver of Goodrum's asserted right to be present is binding on Goodrum only if it was made at his express direction or in open court in his presence or if he acquiesced to the waiver. See Williams v. State, 300 Ga. 161, 165 (794 S.E.2d 127). Because the first two options clearly were not satisfied, we examine if Goodrum acquiesced to the waiver. "As our precedents explain, acquiescence, which is a tacit consent to acts or conditions, 'may occur when counsel makes no objection and a defendant remains silent after he or she is made aware of the proceedings occurring in his or her absence.'" Burney v. State, 299 Ga. 813, 820 (792 S.E.2d 354) (2016) (citation omitted). See also Ward v. State, 288 Ga. 641, 646 (706 S.E.2d 430) (2011) ("Acquiescence means a tacit consent to acts or conditions, and implies a knowledge of those things which are acquiesced in." (quotation marks and citation omitted)).

         The asserted right at issue in this case was Goodrum's "constitutional right to be present during the proceedings at which one of the jurors trying his case was removed." Zamora v. State, 291 Ga. 512, 518 (731 S.E.2d 658) (2012). Immediately after the discussion from which Goodrum was excluded, the trial court advised him and everyone else in the courtroom that an issue had arisen during the break that the court and others had to deal with and, as a result of that issue, the court had excused juror Tullis from the jury that would be deciding Goodrum's case. Thus, the court made it clear that Goodrum had not been present during a proceeding at which one of the jurors trying his case was removed. Goodrum did not express any concern about or objection to his absence during that discussion, nor did he ask for more details about the matter. Moreover, even when, after being found guilty by the jury from which juror Tullis had been ...


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