IN THE INTEREST OF M. C., A CHILD.
ANDREWS and BROWN, JJ.
Miller, Presiding Judge.
Walton County Juvenile Court adjudicated M. C. delinquent for
having committed the offenses of aggravated assault upon a
peace officer (OCGA § 16-5-21 (b) (2016)), attempting to
elude a police officer (OCGA § 40-6-395 (a)),
obstruction of an officer (OCGA § 16-10-24 (a) (2016)),
and reckless driving (OCGA § 40-6-390 (a)). M. C.
appeals from the denial of his motion for new trial, arguing
(1) that during closing argument the State improperly
commented on his assertion of his right to remain silent, and
(2) the evidence was insufficient because the State failed to
establish venue. First, we find no reversible error on the
basis of a violation of M. C.'s constitutional right to
remain silent. We determine, however, that although the
evidence was sufficient to support venue for the charge of
attempting to elude a police officer, the State did not
establish venue as to the remaining offenses for which M. C.
was adjudicated delinquent. Therefore, we affirm in part and
reverse in part.
When reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the
evidence, we construe the evidence favorably to the juvenile
court's judgment. We do not weigh the evidence or resolve
issues of witness credibility, but merely determine whether a
rational trier of fact could have found that [M. C.]
committed the acts charged in the delinquency petition.
(Citations omitted.) In the Interest of M. S., 292
Ga.App. 127 (664 S.E.2d 240) (2008).
in this light, the evidence shows that while an officer with
the Loganville Police Department was on patrol, his "tag
reader" alerted him to a passing stolen vehicle, driven
by M. C. The officer pursued the vehicle as it accelerated
and drove through a grass field and a parking lot, and then
onto Highway 78. Additional officers joined the chase, during
which M. C. was driving at speeds of up to 126 miles per
hour. During the pursuit, which spanned at least six miles,
M. C. swerved and drove directly toward two of the police
cars. Eventually, M. C. crashed into a tree, and he and the
other juvenile in the vehicle fled on foot. Officers chased
and apprehended them at the scene, and a gun was found in the
glove compartment of the vehicle.
State filed a delinquency petition against M. C., and the
juvenile court found that he committed the offenses of
aggravated assault upon a peace officer (two counts),
attempting to elude a police officer, obstruction of an
officer, and reckless driving. M. C. moved for a new trial,
claiming that during closing argument the State improperly
commented on his silence, that the juvenile court wrongfully
attached significance to his failure to testify, and that the
evidence was insufficient to support the verdict as to all
counts of the petition. The juvenile court denied the motion,
and this appeal followed.
his first enumeration of error, M. C. argues that a portion
of the State's closing argument constituted an improper
comment on his invocation of his right to remain silent. We
discern no error on the part of the juvenile court.
A comment upon a defendant's silence or failure to come
forward is far more prejudicial than probative, and therefore
will not be allowed. Nevertheless, to reverse a conviction,
the evidence of the defendant's election to remain silent
must point directly at the substance of the defendant's
defense or otherwise substantially prejudice the defendant in
the eyes of the jury.
and footnotes omitted.) Haggins v. State, 277
Ga.App. 742, 747 (6) (627 S.E.2d 448) (2006). Further,
insofar as M. C.'s silence could have been construed as
evidence of his guilt, "[i]t is presumed that a trial
judge, when he sits as the trier of fact, considered only
legal evidence." (Citations omitted.) Peek v.
State, 234 Ga.App. 731, 732 (2) (507 S.E.2d 553) (1998).
during closing argument, the prosecuting attorney stated,
"[w]ith regard to the vehicle . . . . Well, you've
heard the officers. . . . [M. C.] didn't say anything,
didn't talk to the officers, didn't give any
statement." Defense counsel objected, after which the
prosecuting attorney withdrew these remarks, but then added,
"[w]ell, I can give the statement that he didn't
give his name. Although he may not have given the statement
of the facts of the case, he didn't provide a name,
address, parents' information, nothing."
without deciding that these comments were improper, we
observe that they were made in relation to the charge of
theft by receiving stolen property, and the trial court
acquitted M. C. of this offense. See Dumas v. State,
216 Ga.App. 643, 644 (455 S.E.2d 354) (1995) (considering the
context of prosecutor's argument when determining
"the natural and necessary impact of the
statement") (citation omitted). Indeed, at the hearing
on the motion for new trial, the juvenile court noted the
context of the challenged remarks, and that it had not found
that M. C. committed the theft. Therefore, the juvenile
court's judgment does not suggest that it considered any
improper argument from the State in violation of M. C.'s
constitutional right to remain silent, and reversal is not
warranted on these grounds.
M. C. contends that the juvenile court drew "prejudicial
inferences" from his failure to testify. He identifies
the juvenile court's following statement, made after the
close of evidence and before rendering the verdict: "[M.
C.] didn't testify because he didn't have to testify,
because [the other juvenile] was called by the State, and he
laid out, in my opinion, the story . . . ."
the juvenile court commented on M. C.'s failure to
testify, the transcript of the proceedings belies M. C.'s
suggestion that he was adjudicated delinquent on this basis.
Immediately after stating that the other juvenile had given
an account of the events, the juvenile court referenced that
testimony and stated that it had not found it credible,
particularly given the video of the high-speed chase that the
juvenile court had ...