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Reeves v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

June 20, 2018

REEVES
v.
THE STATE.

          DILLARD, C. J., DOYLE, P. J., and MERCIER, J.

          Doyle, Presiding Judge.

         Drusilla Reeves was convicted of making false statements[1] and misdemeanor obstruction of officers.[2] The trial court denied her amended motion for new trial, and Reeves appeals, arguing that (1) the evidence was insufficient; (2) the sentences should have been merged; and (3) trial counsel was ineffective. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         "On appeal, a conviction will be affirmed if [the appellate c]ourt determines that, under the evidence, any rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."[3]

         Viewed in this light, the evidence showed that Floyd County Sheriff's Department Deputies Marty Watkins and Robbie Whitfield had arrest warrants for Aaron Reeves, and on February 17, 2016, Lisa Langston called the Floyd County jail and spoke with Watkins regarding Aaron's arrest. Watkins confirmed that there were warrants out for Aaron's arrest, and Langston asked the officer if deputies would "hold off" attempting to arrest Aaron because his father had passed away; Langston indicated she would bring Aaron into the Department to surrender the next morning. Watkins testified that he checked with a number of funeral homes, but found no record of the supposedly deceased individual, and the following day, Langston failed to produce Aaron at the designated time, and Langston stopped returning Watkins's phone calls. Watkins testified that he received the call from Langston when he was in Floyd County.

         Anna Banks, who also worked at the Department, told Watkins that a person called the Department purporting to be Aaron's mother, Drusilla Reeves, and she asked to have "a special visit" with her other two sons, who were incarcerated at the jail. On cross-examination, Watkins admitted that the only person he spoke with identified herself as Lisa Langston, and he did not speak to Drusilla Reeves or anyone purporting to be Reeves, nor did Deputy Whitfield. Watkins testified that he arrested Langston and Reeves at Reeves's residence in Floyd County, where Langston admitted to and apologized for lying to Watkins, but she told Watkins that Aaron was in a different town; the deputies left the residence but doubled back, at which point they found Aaron coming out of the woods and arrested him. Deputy Whitfield testified that during this arrest, Reeves's voice had a distinctive deeper, raspier tone, but Langston's voice was not distinctive.

         Langston, who was charged as a co-defendant with Reeves, pleaded guilty and testified at Reeves's trial; Langston testified that she initially called the warrant division and told them that Aaron's father had died, and later, she called the warrant division again, identifying herself as Reeves and asking them not to arrest Aaron. Langston stated that she called the Department from a different county when she identified herself as Reeves, and she did not recall giving officers her name when she called them. Langston testified that Reeves had brought Aaron to stay with her in a different county leading up to these events, and then Langston brought him back to Reeves's home in Floyd County prior to their arrests.

         Banks testified that she worked in the offender processing unit, which was separate from the warrants division, and she received a call from someone purporting to be the mother of Jason Reeves and Christian Nelson, who were in the jail at that time, and she needed to speak with them because their father had passed away. Banks testified that she explained to the caller the protocol for telling an inmate that a family member had passed away, and the information would have to be verified with the funeral home by an investigator, and then the investigator would tell the inmates. Banks testified that the caller became quite belligerent and demanded to speak to the inmates herself, either in person or on the phone, and she was "cagey" when giving information about the funeral home. Banks testified that she had heard Langston's voice, and it did not match the voice of the caller with whom she spoke because the caller had a raspy, deeper voice.

         Reeves testified in her own defense, and she denied ever making a call to the Department or telling anyone there that her husband was dead; she did explain that Aaron was staying with Langston before the day they were all arrested. After the evidence was presented, the jury found Reeves guilty of the two charges.

         1. Reeves first enumerates several challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, including that the evidence as a whole was insufficient and failed to exclude every other reasonable hypothesis of innocence, specifically, that Langston, rather than she, committed the crimes. Although there was testimony that could have supported a finding that Langston concocted the plan to lie to the Department and that she could have carried it out without Reeves's involvement, there was also evidence that Reeves was involved with the plan and assisted Langston in the ruse by making a separate phone call. "It is the province of the jury to resolve any conflicts in the evidence and to determine the credibility of witnesses. . . ."[4] And here, if the conflicts of evidence are resolved in favor of the verdict, the other reasonable hypotheses are excluded.

         (a) Venue. Reeves contends that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to show that the crimes occurred in Floyd County. Reeves maintains that the only evidence of venue was that Langston spoke to Watkins when she was in Bartow County, not Floyd County where the case was prosecuted.

Our Georgia Constitution requires that venue in all criminal cases must be laid in the county in which the crime was allegedly committed. Venue is a jurisdictional fact . . . and is an essential element in proving that one is guilty of the crime charged. Like every other material allegation in the indictment, venue must be proved by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt. Proof of venue is a part of the State's case, and the State's failure to prove venue beyond a reasonable doubt renders the verdict contrary to law, without a sufficient evidentiary basis, and warrants reversal.[5]

         Relying on Spray v. State, [6] Reeves contends that proper venue in this case was the county from which the calls originated. Spray determined that because a defendant was charged with making false statements by falsifying a document, the crime occurred in the county in which the defendant completed the document and not in the county where the government subdivision receiving the document was located.[7]In this case, however, the false statements made were made over a telephone call, and therefore, the mechanism by which the crime was committed is different than that in Spray. Research reveals no case in this State in which either of these crimes have been assessed for proper venue when committed over the telephone.

         OCGA § 17-2-2 (a), the general venue statute of Georgia states that "[c]riminal actions shall be tried in the county where the crime was committed, except as otherwise provided by law."[8] Nevertheless, it goes on to state that "[i]f in any case it cannot be determined in what county a crime was committed, it shall be considered to have been committed in any county in which the evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that it might have been committed."[9] With regard to other telephone based crimes, this Court has generally relied on this provision of the venue statute to hold that venue can be either the location from which the call originated or the place at which the call is received.[10] Accordingly, we hold that the evidence ...


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