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Meadows v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

April 16, 2018



         Appellant Jedarrius Treonta Meadows challenges the trial court's denial of his plea in bar based on double jeopardy after the court - sua sponte and over Appellant's objection - declared a mistrial of his murder trial during jury deliberations. In its order denying the plea, the court said that the deliberations were contentious and that it declared the mistrial "in the interest of juror safety." Having reviewed the record, we conclude that the trial court declared the mistrial without sufficient factual support and without considering less drastic alternatives to terminating the trial. Because there was no manifest necessity for a mistrial, we reverse the denial of the plea in bar.

         1. The record shows that on February 22, 2014, Damion Clayton was shot and killed in a baseball park in Macon. On March 4, 2014, a Bibb County grand jury indicted Appellant, Roland Watson, and Trayvon Starks for malice murder and felony murder; on June 10, 2014, they were reindicted on those two murder charges along with aggravated assault, armed robbery, and two counts of gang activity. Appellant's trial was severed, and his co-indictees agreed to testify for the State.

         The trial began on Tuesday, September 8, 2015, the day after Labor Day. The parties rested their cases on Friday, and with the concurrence of the jury, the court decided to continue the trial on Saturday. After counsel gave their closing arguments on Saturday morning, the judge instructed the jury, which then began its deliberations around 1:30 p.m. Shortly after the jurors began deliberating, they chose to continue through their lunch break and were brought lunch. After lunch, the court received a note from one of the jurors. The note said that the juror wanted "to be replaced with one of the alternates because [she was] not in her right mind." The juror was brought to the courtroom, and when the judge asked if she was capable of deliberating and returning a verdict, she replied that she was not, saying, "I don't have time to go back and forth about my opinion - I just - I don't want to do it." The judge asked the State and defense if they had any questions for the juror; they did not. Without objection, the court excused the juror and replaced her with an alternate.

         The jury was instructed to resume its deliberations with the alternate juror. Shortly thereafter, the jury asked to view a recording in the evidence, which was provided.[1] Later that afternoon, the deputy sheriff who was serving as the court's bailiff apparently came to the judge's office twice to express his concern about the contentious deliberations in the jury room.[2]

         Around 4:20 p.m., the judge brought the jury into the courtroom, asked if there had been a vote, and instructed the jury not to divulge the direction in which it was leaning. The foreperson replied confusingly that the vote was "[t]wo to three, and then eleven to twelve." The judge then asked the jury if it was making any progress. The trial transcript indicates "jurors respond, " but does not say how. The judge then said, "I'm getting a no." The foreperson replied, "We've got some individuals that are very strongly - that are not moving." The judge sent the jury back out to deliberate further and then told the parties, "If I haven't heard from this jury in 15 or 20 minutes I expect to . . . either give them an Allen Charge or declare this jury hung."[3] The prosecutor said, "I'd say declare them hung because when you asked the question I saw some pretty violent disagreement and I don't think an Allen Charge is going to clear it." Appellant's counsel replied that there could be potential for an Allen charge. The judge ended the discussion by saying, "I will go ponder on it. I don't know that an Allen Charge is going to do a lot of good here." At this point, the jury had been deliberating for only three hours - not counting breaks and delays - after a four-day trial.

         Some time after this discussion, the deputy sheriff apparently went to the judge's office a third time to say that he was still very concerned about what was happening in the jury room. On a fourth and final visit, the deputy said that he thought he would have to go into the jury room because things were "out of hand." The judge told the deputy, "No, we are stopping."[4]

         At about 4:40 p.m., the judge told the parties on the record:

All right, I'm going to bring this jury back in and I'm going to make a little bit of a record before we do that. This jury has been down here this week late and has put in more hours probably than most jurors do in a non-holiday week. They've had to sit through quite a few delays while things got ready. It has been reported to me that their discussion in the jury room has become quite contentious and volatile. [The deputy] came in my office and told me, just a few minutes ago, that at one point he thought he was going to have to go in there. . . . I think these people have served above and beyond the call on this case and it was fairly obvious when I brought them in awhile ago and asked them if they were making any progress that they are not making any progress. I am going to declare a mistrial and send this jury home.

         The judge then brought the jury into the courtroom and said:

All right, folks, y'all have been at this awhile, I know, and based on the previous conversation with you, it doesn't sound to me like you are really getting very far. You have gone above and beyond the call of duty and you're down here on a Saturday afternoon, nearly five o'clock. From what I'm hearing is that this has become somewhat of a contentious situation. I think that we have asked all that we can ask of y'all at this point and I am going to declare this case a mistrial and send you all home.

         Appellant's counsel objected, and the judge sent the jurors back to the jury room so they could speak with the court clerk before going home. The judge then asked what Appellant was objecting to, and his counsel argued that three hours of deliberation was not unreasonable. The judge replied that this was the first time in his experience that a bailiff had expressed concerns that he would need to go into the jury room because of contentious deliberations. Appellant's counsel claimed that the foreperson had said that the jury was making progress 15 minutes ago, but the judge said that he heard one of the jurors say no and saw several jurors indicate no. Appellant's counsel then suggested that the court could have polled the jurors individually to see if they thought they could make progress. The judge replied that he was unfamiliar with that procedure and said, "Your objection is noted, but I'm not going to keep these people in there until they kill one another; I'm just not." The State did not object to the mistrial.

         About three weeks later, Appellant filed a plea in bar based on double jeopardy. When a hearing on the matter was finally held more than 20 months later on June 20, 2017, the trial judge said that he declared the mistrial in the interest of juror safety. The judge asserted that he had excused one juror "because of how volatile things were in the jury room" and that "in 30 years . . . that is the only time I have ever seen or heard of a deputy going to the judge and saying, things are so bad in the jury room that I'm fixing to have to go in there." On July 19, 2017, the trial court entered an order denying Appellant's plea in bar, ruling that the mistrial was necessary "in the interest of juror safety." Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal directed to the Court of Appeals, which transferred the case to this Court. The case was docketed to the term beginning in December 2017 and orally argued on February 5, 2018.

         2. The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, says "[n]o person shall be . . . subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb . . . ." U.S. Const. amend. V. See Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784, 795-796 (89 S.Ct. 2056, ...

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