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Maxwell v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

February 28, 2019

MAXWELL
v.
THE STATE.

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

          MERCIER, JUDGE.

         A jury found Glenn Maxwell guilty of aggravated assault (family violence) in connection with an offense committed against O. I., the mother of his children. Maxwell appeals, contending that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction entered on the verdict. Finding the contention without merit, we affirm.

         The version of OCGA § 16-5-21 (b) (2014) in effect at the time of the charged offense pertinently provided: "A person commits the offense of aggravated assault when he or she assaults . . . (3) [w]ith any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in strangulation." OCGA § 16-5-21 (a) (2014) provided: "As used in this Code section, the term 'strangulation' means impeding the normal breathing or circulation of blood of another person by applying pressure to the throat or neck of such person or by obstructing the nose and mouth of such person." The indictment alleged that Maxwell committed aggravated assault by assaulting O. I. with his "hands, objects which when used offensively against a person are likely to result in strangulation by placing [his] hands around [O. I.'s] throat and applying pressure, therefore impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood[.]"

         In two similar but separately enumerated claims of error challenging the sufficiency of the evidence "to prove the offense of aggravated assault as it was alleged in the indictment," Maxwell contends that: (1) "[t]he State failed to show that hands were used to apply pressure to the throat which impeded normal breathing or circulation of blood"; and (2) "[t]here was a fatal variance between the manner in which the indictment averred an aggravated assault and the evidence at trial.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to support the verdict, Turbeville v. State, 268 Ga.App. 88 (601 S.E.2d 461) (2004), the evidence introduced at trial included the following.[1] On March 12, 2015, a police officer responded to a 911 call regarding a domestic disturbance in an apartment. When the officer arrived at the apartment building, he heard "yelling and screaming going on inside an apartment" and saw a teenaged girl outside holding a baby; the teenager and the baby were crying. The teenager, who was O. I.'s daughter, asked the officer to hurry and pointed to an apartment. The officer entered the apartment through an open door and saw a man sitting on a couch with his arms around a woman. The man, Maxwell, was applying a "bilateral neck restraint" or a "rear choke hold" to the woman, O. I.; the officer testified that such a hold is commonly referred to as a "choke hold." The officer had been trained to use such a hold as a defensive tactic in law enforcement, and had trained other officers in its use. He testified, without objection, that such a hold "can render someone unconscious . . . by restricting the blood flow in [the person's] neck, the blood flow from the - - the oxygen to the brain[, ] . . . render[ing] [a person] unconscious until we resuscitate." Using the prosecutor in a demonstration, the officer showed the jury the type of choke hold the officer saw Maxwell applying when he entered the apartment. The officer, who previously served in the military, as a firefighter, and as an emergency medical responder for a fire department, testified (without objection) that the type of choke hold Maxwell was applying was dangerous and, if done improperly, could result in unconsciousness and even death. He added, also without objection, that Maxwell had O. I. "in a hold where he was like leaning back on the couch[, ] which is to me that was applying pressure because it's leaning. The slightest lean with that is the quicker someone could be rendered unconscious." According to the officer, "if [that choke hold is] not applied correctly, you could kill someone as far as crushing their trachea." The officer reiterated that O. I. was "being choked" when he entered the apartment, adding that "[s]he pretty much, in my eyes, was useless, which made me hurry." O. I. "was in complete distress." The officer directed Maxwell to release O. I, but he did not, instead telling the officer to "come get her." The officer then "walked over and just grabbed [Maxwell's] hands. . . .I grabbed his hands off of the neck." After "separat[ing]" O.I. from Maxwell, the officer told her "to go stand away from me," handcuffed Maxwell and placed him in the patrol car.

         The officer (and backup officers who arrived) questioned O. I. and her two daughters, both of whom were present during the incident. O. I. told the officer that she and Maxwell had argued, then Maxwell "threw her to the couch," struck her, and said he had "been wanting to beat her." O. I. told the officer that her daughters (who were 15 and 13 years old at the time of trial) had attempted to intervene, but Maxwell then struck them and threatened to "beat" them. One of the daughters called 911. A recording of the 911 call was played at trial. According to the officer and one of O. I.'s daughters, a child could be heard in the background of the recording "yelling get off my mama." At the time, O. I. was pregnant with the younger of Maxwell's two children.

         At trial, O. I. testified that she physically attacked Maxwell and that he was merely attempting to subdue her, not harm her. She acknowledged that she told the police officer that Maxwell "grabbed [her] and slammed [her] into the couch," but she denied that he placed his hands around her throat or choked her. She denied that she had trouble breathing and that there was "any pressure applied to [her] breathing." O. I. admitted that the statement she made to the police officer at the scene differed from her trial testimony, explaining that she lied to the officer because she was angry with Maxwell. O. I. wrote a letter and an affidavit recanting her earlier statement to police. After an audio recording of O. I.'s visit to see Maxwell while he was in jail was played for the jury, O. I. admitted that Maxwell told her to testify that she was at fault in the incident and that he had not touched her. At the time of the trial, O. I. and Maxwell were "still actively in a relationship."

         1. The evidence was sufficient to show that Maxwell committed aggravated assault by "placing [his] hands around [O. I.'s] throat and applying pressure, therefore impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood," as alleged in the indictment.

         As set out above, the officer testified that he saw O. I. "being choked" by Maxwell, saw Maxwell leaning back in a manner that led the officer to believe Maxwell was applying pressure to O. I.'s neck, knew that the choke hold Maxwell was applying could render a person unconscious by restricting blood flow, saw that O. I. was "useless" while Maxwell was applying the choke hold, and grabbed Maxwell's hands from O. I.'s neck. The jury was not required to believe O. I.'s trial testimony to the contrary.

         "As long as there is some competent evidence, even though contradicted, to support each fact necessary to make out the State's case, the jury's verdict will be upheld." Miller v. State, 273 Ga. 831, 832 (546 S.E.2d 524) (2001) (citation and punctuation omitted). It is the function of the jury, not the Court, to resolve conflicts in the testimony and weigh the evidence. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (II) (B) (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). "[T]he trier of fact is not obligated to believe a witness even if the testimony is uncontradicted and may accept or reject any portion of the testimony." Walsh v. State, 303 Ga. 276, 282 (811 S.E.2d 353) (2018). A jury is authorized to believe a witness's pre-trial statement and reject any portion of his or her testimony at trial. Gartrell v. State, 2018 Ga. LEXIS 778, *7. Further,

the State often meets its burden of proving the . . . essential elements of the crime using circumstantial evidence from which the jury may draw reasonable inferences, with the reasonableness of the inferences measured by the evidence supporting them and the evidence undermining them, whichever party elicited that evidence.

Worthen v. State, 2019 Ga. LEXIS 22, *22 (3) (e), n. 7. The evidence presented was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Maxwell was guilty of aggravated assault as charged in the indictment. See generally Johnson v. State, 247 Ga.App. 157, 160 (2) (543 S.E.2d 439) (2015), overruled in part on other grounds in Owens v. State, 271 Ga.App. 365, 369 (3) (609 S.E.2d 670) (2005).

         2. Maxwell's similar contention, that "[t]here was a fatal variance between the manner in which the indictment averred an aggravated assault and the ...


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