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Adams v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 3, 2019


          BOGGS, JUSTICE.

         After a jury trial, Gregory Claude Adams was found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol to the extent that he was less safe to drive, failure to maintain lane, and following too closely. He appealed, asserting as error the admission of evidence regarding a stipulation in an administrative license suspension hearing pursuant to OCGA § 40-5-67.1 and evidence of a 2011 arrest for DUI. The Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions in Adams v. State, 344 Ga.App. 159 (809 S.E.2d 87) (2017), and we granted certiorari to consider this ruling. Although we do not agree with all that is stated in the Court of Appeals' opinion, we conclude that Adams has affirmatively waived the first claim and has failed to demonstrate error with respect to the second claim, and we therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

         The underlying facts are not in dispute. In July 2016, after a one-vehicle accident, Adams was arrested for DUI and other offenses and declined to take the state-administered blood test. The trooper who arrested Adams then initiated an administrative suspension of Adams' license pursuant to OCGA § 40-5-67.1. At an administrative hearing in the suspension proceeding, the trooper and Adams' counsel executed a written agreement, which the trooper testified was a "joint motion to withdraw the license suspension."[1] This agreement provided that the trooper would withdraw the sworn report made pursuant to OCGA § 40-5-67.1, in return for Adams' promise to enter a guilty plea to the underlying DUI charge. If Adams failed to enter a guilty plea to DUI, the agreement authorized the trooper to obtain an order reinstating the administrative license suspension without a hearing.

         Adams did not plead guilty to the DUI charge and instead went to trial. At trial, the State presented evidence of the agreement through the trooper who arrested Adams, and a copy of the agreement was admitted into evidence.[2] The State also presented evidence of Adams' 2011 arrest for DUI, in which he declined the state-administered blood test and ultimately pled guilty to reckless driving. Following Adams' conviction for DUI and other offenses, he appealed to the Court of Appeals.

         The Court of Appeals reviewed the admission of the agreement only for plain error because Adams did not object at trial to its admission. See Adams, 344 Ga.App. at 162-163 (1). The Court of Appeals concluded that Adams could not demonstrate a clear or obvious error due to its earlier decision in Flading v. State, 327 Ga.App. 346 (759 S.E.2d 67) (2014), which held that a trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting into evidence at a DUI trial a written stipulation in an administrative license suspension proceeding. See id. at 348-351 (1). The Court of Appeals also held that Adams, by failing to designate necessary portions of the record on appeal, "procedurally waived" his argument that the probative value of the evidence of the 2011 DUI incident was substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice under OCGA § 24-4-403. See Adams, 344 Ga.App. at 170 (4) (c).

         1. We first consider whether the Court of Appeals erred in upholding the trial court's admission of the administrative license suspension agreement at Adams' criminal trial. Adams contends that Flading was wrongly decided, violated Georgia public policy without giving any reason for doing so, and in any event is factually distinguishable given the absence in Adams' agreement of any stipulation that the agreement would be admissible in any subsequent legal proceeding.

         We agree with the Court of Appeals that Adams forfeited ordinary review of this claim of error by failing to object at trial to the admission of the agreement. See Adams, 344 Ga.App. at 162 (1). "In order to preserve an objection for [ordinary] appellate review, the specific ground of the objection must be made at the time the challenged evidence is offered." (Citations, punctuation, and footnote omitted.) Anthony v. State, 302 Ga. 546, 549 (II) (807 S.E.2d 891) (2017). As we noted in Anthony, our new Evidence Code permits "plain error review of certain unpreserved evidentiary errors affecting substantial rights. See OCGA § 24-1-103 (d)." 302 Ga. at 549 n.4. However, Adams not only failed to object in the trial court on the ground he asserts on appeal; he affirmatively waived any claim of error in the admission of the agreement.

         The four-prong plain error test we adopted in State v. Kelly, 290 Ga. 29, 33 (2) (a) (718 S.E.2d 232) (2011), requires: "First, there must be an error or defect - some sort of deviation from a legal rule - that has not been intentionally relinquished or abandoned, i.e., affirmatively waived, by the appellant." (Punctuation omitted.) Here, the following exchange took place immediately before opening statements at trial:

THE STATE: [T]he State would like a declaratory ruling by the Court to make things run smoother at trial. The State plans to introduce a document entitled joint motion to withdraw a sworn report. This is filed on September 21st of 2016 and dated September 20th of 2016 in which the defendant Gregory Adams agreed to enter a plea of guilty to the underlying DUI on or before December 1st of 2016 in exchange for the GSP Trooper Michael Talton withdrawing the ALS proceeding. The State believes there will be some opposition to the admission of this and would like to go ahead and have that evidentiary issue [decided] now to streamline the presentation of evidence.
THE COURT: Mr. Sliger?
MR. SLIGER [Adams' counsel]: Judge, we don't object. I think it is proper to come in.
THE COURT: All right.

         (Emphasis supplied.) Thus, Adams affirmatively waived any claim of error from the admission of the agreement, so there was no plain error.[3] See, e.g., Adkins v. State, 301 Ga. 153, 156 (2) (800 S.E.2d 341) (2017), and cases cited therein; Lee v. State, 347 Ga.App. 508, 512 (2) (b) (820 S.E.2d 147) (2018) (on plain error review, defendant's affirmative statement that he had no objection to charge on stipulation waived any claim that trial court improperly referenced stipulation). We express no opinion on the Court of Appeals' decision in Flading or its applicability to the facts presented here.

         2. We next consider whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that Adams "procedurally waived" his enumeration of error concerning OCGA § 24-4-403 ("Rule 403"). See Adams, 344 Ga.App. at 170 (4) (c). We do not agree with this characterization, but we agree that Adams is unable to ...

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