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Seals v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

May 8, 2019


          DOYLE, P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.

          MARKLE, JUDGE.

         Marcus Glenn Seals appeals from the denial of his motion for new trial following his conviction for aggravated assault, burglary, stalking, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, and criminal damage to property. On appeal, he argues that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel due to counsel's failure to object to (a) evidence of his prior difficulties with the victim, and (b) the admission of text messages. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979), the record shows that the victim, C. L., and Seals had been dating on and off since 2002 or 2003. In 2004, they were living together in Alabama, but were arguing frequently, and when C. L. told Seals that she was leaving him, he slapped her and she threw a vase at him. Despite his temper, C. L. continued the relationship with Seals. In early 2005, Seals tried to attack C. L. when she went to a night club with a friend. When C. L. went back to her apartment that night, she discovered that Seals had broken into her home and taken her dog. Because C. L. was frightened of Seals, she called the police and they escorted her to the highway so she could leave. However, Seals followed her and forced her car to the side of the road. C. L. then got into Seals's car and went home with him. Again, C. L. continued her relationship with Seals, including engaging in consensual sexual contact. In September 2005, Seals visited C. L. uninvited at her workplace, and C. L. called the police. That night, C. L. went to a battered woman's shelter and then drove to Atlanta.

         After she moved to Georgia, C. L. did not tell Seals where she was living or working, and did not invite Seals to her apartment, but she continued to speak with him by phone. That November, C. L. received a text message from Seals's phone number with a picture of the house she had stayed in when she first came to Atlanta. A few weeks later, she received another text threatening her after Seals's car was repossessed. The text message came from the phone number C. L. identified as Seals, and read, "I sure hope this $500 was worth what you're about to get done to you," and "Bitch, I'll get you. I'll never forget this shit." C. L. contacted police, but continued to communicate with Seals. She saw Seals again in December 2005 and in January 2006, staying with him during a trip to Alabama. C. L. admitted that she and Seals were intimate, but she stated that she did not want to reestablish a romantic relationship with him.

         On the night of February 18, 2006, C. L. went to a club with friends. While she was there, Seals called her, but C. L. told him she could not hear him and would call him later. However, C. L.'s phone died and she was not able to call Seals back. The following morning, C. L. was at home with a former boyfriend, F. S., when she heard someone knock at her apartment door. Immediately thereafter, Seals kicked the door in, entered the apartment, and started shooting. C. L. ran into her bedroom and hid on the floor by her bed. F. S. grabbed his rifle and starting shooting at Seals, but his gun jammed after the first shot. F. S. was shot in the leg and Seals was shot in the torso and arm. C. L. called 911 as Seals fled the apartment. Seals called C. L. later that evening, said he was not trying to hurt her and asked if F. S. was dead.

         Following this incident, Seals was indicted on two counts of burglary; two counts of aggravated assault; criminal damage to property; two counts of possession of a firearm during commission of a crime; and two counts of stalking. Prior to trial, the State filed notice of its intent to introduce Seals's prior convictions and other crimes, and to seek recidivist sentencing. Although defense counsel initially reserved his objection to evidence of prior difficulties between the parties, at the beginning of trial, counsel stated there was no objection to such testimony.

         Seals testified in his own defense, stating that he and C. L. were in a relationship, and that he went to C. L.'s apartment that night because he was worried when she did not call him back. He admitted that he was angry and had kicked the door in, but he claimed he did not start shooting until F. S. fired at him. Although he denied that he had ever threatened C. L., he admitted sending the text messages. During defense counsel's cross-examination of C. L., counsel asked about inconsistencies in her testimony regarding her relationship with Seals and what she told police the day of the shooting.

         The jury convicted Seals on all counts. Seals filed a motion for new trial and an amended motion, arguing, as is relevant to this appeal, that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to (a) evidence of prior difficulties between Seals and the victim, and (b) testimony regarding threatening text messages Seals allegedly sent to the victim. The trial court denied the motion for new trial, as amended. Seals now appeals, raising two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

To succeed on a claim that counsel was constitutionally ineffective, [Seals] must show both that his attorney's performance was deficient, and that he was prejudiced as a result. Under the first prong of this test, counsel's performance will be found deficient only if it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances and in light of prevailing professional norms. And under the second prong, prejudice is demonstrated only where there is a reasonable probability that, absent counsel's errors, the result of the trial would have been different. A "reasonable probability" is defined as a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. Failure to satisfy either prong of the . . . test is sufficient to defeat a claim of ineffective assistance, and it is not incumbent upon this Court to examine the other prong. And although both the performance and prejudice components of an ineffectiveness inquiry involve mixed questions of law and fact, a trial court's factual findings made in the course of deciding an ineffective assistance of counsel claim will be affirmed by the reviewing court unless clearly erroneous. (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Green v. State, 302 Ga. 816, 817-818 (2) (809 S.E.2d 738) (2018). Before turning to Seals's claims of error, we note that the trial in this case occurred in 2007, and thus the prior version of our Evidence Code applies. See Arbegast v. State, 332 Ga.App. 414, 416 (2) (a) (773 S.E.2d 283) (2015).

         1. In his first enumeration of error, Seals argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel due to counsel's failure to object to the admission of evidence of prior difficulties, and the evidence was inadmissible because the trial court failed to conduct the required analysis before allowing the evidence. We disagree.

[P]rior difficulties between the parties are not independent acts or occurrences, but are connected acts or occurrences arising from the relationship between the same people involved in the prosecution and are related and connected by such nexus. Evidence of a defendant's prior act toward the same victim, whether an assault, a quarrel, or a threat, is admissible as evidence of the relationship between the victim and the defendant and may show the defendant's motive, intent, and bent of mind in committing the act against the victim which results in the charges for which the defendant is being prosecuted.

(Citation omitted.) Appling v. State, 246 Ga.App. 556 (541 S.E.2d 129) (2000). "Evidence of prior difficulties between the parties is admissible if there is a 'logical, probative connection' between the difficulties and the crimes charged." (Citation omitted.) Cunningham v. State, 243 Ga.App. 770, 771 (1) (533 S.E.2d 735) (2000); see also Wall v. State, 269 Ga. 506, 508-509 (2) (500 S.E.2d 904) (1998). Where the defendant claims self-defense, evidence of prior difficulties is relevant and admissible. Spearman v. State, 267 Ga. 600, 601 (2) (481 S.E.2d 814) (1997).

         Here, the victim testified to the contentious nature of her relationship with Seals and prior threats he had made. In his own testimony, Seals admitted that the two fought, and that he sent the messages. He further claimed that he fired his gun in self defense. Thus, the testimony about the prior difficulties between C. L. and Seals was relevant to show Seals's motive, intent, and bent of mind.[1]Spearman, 267 Ga. at 601 (2); Appling, 246 Ga.App. at 556. Therefore, the evidence was admissible, and trial counsel's failure to object to it was not deficient performance. Notably, counsel did not testify at the hearing on the motion for new trial as to his failure to ...

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