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Meddings v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

June 14, 2018


          MCFADDEN, P. J., RAY and RICKMAN, JJ.

          Ray, Judge.

         Following a jury trial, Richard Carlton Meddings, II, was convicted on four counts of child molestation and two counts of aggravated child molestation. He appeals from his convictions and the trial court's denial of his motion for new trial, contending that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress his confessions. He also contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, that he had ineffective assistance of counsel, and that he was denied his rights to due process based on post-trial delay. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         On appeal from his criminal conviction, Meddings is no longer presumed innocent and all of the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict. Lipscomb v. State, 315 Ga.App. 437, 439 (727 S.E.2d 221) (2012).

         The evidence adduced at trial shows that in 2007, the 14-year-old victim, A. T., and other family members lived with Meddings in Houston County. Meddings was married to A. T.'s half-sister. A. T. testified at trial that, during this time, Meddings molested her on several occasions by touching her vaginal area with his hands, mouth, and penis, by touching her buttocks with his penis, and by having her place her hand and mouth on his penis. Although A. T. was initially afraid to tell anyone about the sexual abuse, she eventually made an outcry to her mother.

         Following her outcry, a forensic interview of A. T. was conducted at the Rainbow House, a child advocacy center, wherein A. T. described Meddings' acts of sexual abuse. Later, a child abuse investigator with the Houston County Department of Family and Children Services and Corporal Hilton, a juvenile investigator with the Houston County Sheriff's Department, went to A. T.'s school to interview her. During this follow-up interview, A. T. described Meddings' acts of sexual abuse in great detail.

         Following A. T.'s disclosure, A. T.'s half-sister became angry at A. T. and accused her of lying about the sexual abuse. Under pressure from her sister and other family members, A. T. was coerced into writing a letter recanting her allegations. At trial, however, A. T. confirmed that Meddings had indeed molested her and that her testimony about the acts of sexual abuse was the truth.

         The evidence at trial further showed that on May 10, 2007, Meddings was interviewed twice by Corporal Hilton. In the first interview, which was video-recorded, Meddings denied any wrongdoing and agreed to go take a polygraph test. When he met with the polygraph examiner later that morning, however, Meddings confessed to his crimes during the pre-test interview. After admitting his guilt to the polygraph examiner, Meddings wrote out a statement summarizing his confession. The polygraph examiner then made a telephone call to Corporal Hill and faxed Meddings' written confession to her.

         After leaving the polygraph examiner's office, Meddings met with Corporal Hilton again that same day for a second video-recorded interview, wherein he confirmed his written confession. Although Corporal Hilton was now aware of Meddings' confession, she did not place Meddings under arrest at that time. Rather, she allowed Meddings to leave to get his affairs in order before his arrest.

         On May 15, 2007, Meddings turned himself in to Corporal Hilton to be placed under arrest. After being advised of his Miranda rights, Meddings participated in a third video-recorded interview, wherein he gave Corporal Hilton a more detailed confession regarding his crimes.

         Meddings' oral and written confessions to the polygraph examiner and the video recordings of Meddings' oral confessions to Corporal Hilton were admitted into evidence at trial over Meddings' objection. After considering all of the evidence, including the testimony of the child-victim and the evidence of Meddings' confessions, the jury found Meddings guilty of all charges in the indictment. This appeal ensued.

         1. Meddings first contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his confessions. Specifically, he argues that his confessions were involuntary and inadmissible because they were induced by an improper promise of benefit. We disagree.

         To render a confession admissible under Georgia law, "it must have been made voluntarily, without being induced by another by the slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear of injury." See former OCGA § 24-3-50.[1] The statutory reference to "the slightest hope of benefit" refers to promises related to reduced criminal punishment such as "a shorter sentence, lesser charges, or no charges at all." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Finley v. State, 298 Ga. 451, 454 (3) (782 S.E.2d 651) (2016). In determining whether an in-custody statement was made freely and voluntarily, a trial court must consider the "totality of the circumstances" and apply a "preponderance of the evidence" standard. (Citation omitted.) Philpot v. State, 300 Ga. 154, 158 (3) (794 S.E.2d 140) (2016). Further, "[b]ecause admissibility of such a statement presents a mixed question of fact and law, on appeal, we accept the trial court's findings on disputed facts and credibility of witnesses unless clearly erroneous and independently apply the legal principles to the facts." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id.

         At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Corporal Hilton testified that, on the morning of Meddings' scheduled polygraph examination, she did not pressure, threaten, or promise anything to Meddings, nor did she give him any kind of inducement to persuade him to talk to the polygraph examiner. Our review of the video-recording of this particular interview indicates that Corporal Hilton informed Meddings that "today is the only day that I can help you." However, to put her statement into context, we note that Corporal Hilton further explained to Meddings that she is part of a multi-disciplinary team which includes investigators, the district attorney, psychologists, child advocates, and others, and that the multi-disciplinary team meets monthly to discuss pending cases involving abused children. She also explained to Meddings that the district attorney may ask her for a recommendation at one of these meetings, and she informed Meddings that if he was open and honest with her, she could inform the district attorney of his cooperation and that she might not recommend the maximum ...

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