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Ledbetter v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

March 5, 2019


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

          Dillard, Chief Judge.

         Demetrius Dewayne Ledbetter, proceeding pro se, appeals an order from the State Court of Clayton County denying his motion to restrict a criminal record under OCGA § 35-3-37. For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         In March 2016, Ledbetter was charged by accusation with one count of family-violence battery and one count of simple battery, with the alleged incident having occurred on March 8, 2016.[1] Ledbetter's case was bound over from the Magistrate Court of Clayton County to the State Court of Clayton County after the magistrate court denied bond and Ledbetter waived his right to a preliminary hearing. Ledbetter then requested a trial by jury in the state court. But in June 2016, the two charges against Ledbetter were nolle prossed on the State's motion, with the condition that Ledbetter have no further contact with the victim.

         Thereafter, in March 2018, Ledbetter filed a motion to restrict records from the 2016 case, citing OCGA § 35-3-37, and asking the court to direct the Clayton County Police Department and Georgia Bureau of Investigation to restrict or seal the records. The motion was first filed in the Clayton County Superior Court, but then later filed in the Clayton County State Court.[2] The state court issued a rule nisi, ordering the parties to appear for a hearing on the motion set for May 11, 2018.

         One month after filing the motion, in April 2018, Ledbetter filed an amended motion to restrict records, asking that the court's order be directed to the custodian of records at the Clayton County State Court, Clayton County Magistrate Court, Clayton County Sheriff's Office, Clayton County Police Department, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and "[a]ny other 'Entity' as defined by [OCGA] § 35-3-37 (a) (2), having custody or control of any information pertinent" to the 2016 case. That same day, Ledbetter also filed a "motion for order to produce the defendant," informing the court that he had been arrested by the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department on May 2, 2017, and that he was currently being housed at the DeKalb County Jail. The purpose of this motion was to allow him to appear at the May 11, 2018 hearing scheduled on his motion to restrict records.

         On April 19, 2018, the trial court issued an order denying both of Ledbetter's motions, noting that his 2016 charges were "nolle prossed for unrestrictable reasons." The court then went on to explain that Ledbetter had been "convicted of a felony in the Superior Court of Clayton County, for which he [was] wanted on a Violation of Probation warrant," and that he was "an active inmate in the DeKalb County jail at this time for other reasons as well." Accordingly, the court denied the motion to restrict records, cancelled the scheduled hearing on that motion, and denied Ledbetter's motion for an order to produce him to attend the hearing.

         This appeal by Ledbetter follows, in which he argues that the trial court erred in (1) not providing an appropriate reason for denying his motion, (2) stating in its order that he was a convicted felon who was wanted for a probation violation, (3) treating him adversely due to his having made a first offender plea, (4) considering that he was incarcerated in another jail at the time that he filed his motion, and (5) ultimately denying his motion. We will address his enumerations of error by discussing the appropriateness of the trial court's ruling as it applied to the various custodians of record to whom Ledbetter asked the court to direct an order. To the extent the court denied Ledbetter's motion as to the sheriff's office, police department, GBI, and other "entities" under OCGA § 35-3-37 (a) (2), we affirm. But because the court erred in denying the motion as to its own clerk of court and the clerk of the magistrate court, we vacate and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         1. The order as it relates to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

         As part of his petition to the trial court, Ledbetter requested that an order of restriction be directed to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. But as to this portion of his request, the trial court did not err in denying the motion.

         First, we turn to the statutory scheme that controls in this case-i.e., the statutes that establish and govern the Georgia Crime Information Center, [3] which is a division of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.[4] As always, in interpreting any statute, "we necessarily begin our analysis with familiar and binding canons of construction."[5] And in considering the meaning of a statute, our charge is to "presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant."[6] To that end, we must afford the statutory text its plain and ordinary meaning, [7] consider the text contextually, [8] read the text "in its most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker of the English language would, "[9] and seek to "avoid a construction that makes some language mere surplusage."[10] Thus, when the language of a statute is plain and susceptible of only one natural and reasonable construction, "courts must construe the statute accordingly."[11]

         Looking to the statute in question, OCGA § 35-3-37 allows for the "restriction" of criminal history record information under certain explicit circumstances, [12] defining "restrict," "restricted," and "restriction" as follows:

[T]he criminal history record information of an individual relating to a particular charge shall be available only to judicial officials and criminal justice agencies for law enforcement or criminal investigative purposes or to criminal justice agencies for purposes of employment in accordance with procedures established by the center[13] and shall not be disclosed or otherwise made available to any private persons or businesses pursuant to Code Section 35-3-34 or to governmental agencies or licensing and regulating agencies pursuant to Code Section 35-3-35.[14]

         Thus, the Code provides that "[a]ccess to an individual's criminal history record information, including any fingerprints or photographs of the individual taken in conjunction with the arrest, shall be restricted by the center" when, inter alia, "[a]fter indictment or accusation[, ]" and "[e]xcept as provided in subsection (i)," the charges against the individual "were dismissed or nolle prossed[.]"[15] The exception to this automatic and mandatory directive arises when charges were nolle prossed or dismissed because

(A) [o]f a plea agreement resulting in a conviction of the individual for an offense arising out of the same underlying transaction or occurrence as the conviction;
(B) [t]he prosecuting attorney was barred from introducing material evidence against the individual on legal grounds, including, without limitation, the granting of a motion to suppress or motion in limine;
(C) [t]he conduct which resulted in the arrest of the individual was part of a pattern of criminal activity which was prosecuted in another court of the state or a foreign nation; or
(D) [t]he individual had diplomatic, consular, or similar immunity or inviolability from arrest or prosecution[.][16]

         In such cases, the individual's criminal history record "shall not be restricted[.]"[17]

         Here, although the trial court's order says that Ledbetter's 2016 case was nolle prossed by the State "for unrestrictable reasons," the State's motion to nolle prosse does not support this conclusion. Indeed, the State's motion gives no grounds to support its request to nolle prosse, only checking the "other" box to specify that Ledbetter was to have no contact with the victim. Instead, it appears that Ledbetter's 2016 case was subject to automatic record restriction, [18] the implications of which we will further discuss below.

         Thus, to the extent the trial court denied Ledbetter's motion as to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, we affirm because the Georgia Crime Information Center was required to automatically restrict Ledbetter's record.[19] And even if the record was not subject to automatic restriction, nothing in the statute permits the state court to order the Georgia Crime Information Center/Georgia Bureau of Investigation to restrict a record that is not subject to automatic restriction.

         2. The order as it relates to ...

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