McFADDEN, P. J., McMILLIAN and GOSS, JJ.
State appeals from the trial court's order granting
defendant Michael Lewis' motion to dismiss his indictment
on one charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted
felon. For the reasons that follow, we vacate the trial
court's order and remand for further proceedings.
limited record shows that Lewis and his co-defendant, Dexter
Harris, were stopped by police on August 12, 2013, after the
officers saw that neither man was wearing a seatbelt. When
the officers approached the vehicle, they observed what
appeared to be a marijuana cigar tucked into Lewis'
waistband. During a subsequent search of the vehicle,
officers located a handgun in the center console. When
neither man admitted to owning or possessing the handgun,
both Lewis and Harris were arrested and later charged with
possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
2018, Lewis and Harris filed a motion to suppress and a
motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that they had
been deprived of their constitutional right to a speedy
trial. After the motions were set for a hearing during a
period when the testifying officer would be unavailable, the
State moved to continue the hearing on the defendants'
motions to suppress. At the hearing on the motion to dismiss,
Harris elected to waive his motions and enter a guilty plea,
which the trial court accepted. In discussing sentencing,
Harris' counsel told the trial court:
And we're not getting into actual ownership or anything
like that, but he is taking responsibility for the gun that
was in there. Because he was the driver of the car, and
it's presumed to be - anything in there is presumed to be
that of the owner, and I've tried to explain that to him,
too. And he can't even be around somebody that has a
firearm because this can happen again even though it's
not his firearm.
that same day, Lewis appeared in the same trial court for a
hearing on his speedy trial motion. Immediately, the trial
court asked the State what it was "trying to
accomplish" given that Harris had just entered a guilty
plea on the same charge. The State explained that the
defendants were not charged with ownership of the firearm,
but rather with constructive joint possession because the
firearm was found within arm's reach of both men in the
vehicle. When the State attempted to address the factors
involved in the analysis of Lewis' speedy trial motion,
the trial court again turned to the fact that Harris had
pleaded guilty to possession of the firearm. The trial court
then asked - despite the State's motion for continuance
in the absence of the testifying officer - whether it was
permitted to dismiss the case by converting Harris'
constitutional speedy trial motion to a "motion for
directed verdict." Although the State maintained that a
directed verdict would not be appropriate, the trial court
entered an order dismissing the indictment on the grounds
that the State "had not spoken to the arresting officer
to clarify the area where the firearm was recovered."
This appeal followed.
it is not entirely clear from the record what the trial court
intended to do in issuing its order following the hearing on
Lewis' speedy trial motion, we find that it was without
authority to act as it did. We first note that a directed
verdict of acquittal is proper "[i]f, construing the
evidence in favor of the State, no rational jury could make
the requisite finding." Shivers v. State, 286
Ga. 422, 430 (3), n.4 (688 S.E.2d 622) (2010). Thus, a motion
for directed verdict "has no meaning when a case is
tried without a jury." Poole v. State, 249
Ga.App. 409, 410 (1) (548 S.E.2d 113) (2001) (trial court
cannot direct a verdict of acquittal in a bench trial).
Because there has been no trial - much less a jury trial - in
this case, the trial court was not authorized to issue a
directed verdict. See Fluellen v. State, 264 Ga.App.
19, 22 (4), n.1 (589 S.E.2d 847) (2003) (trial court cannot
direct verdict of acquittal in a bench trial). If there had
been a bench trial, "the issue [would have been] whether
the evidence was sufficient at trial to support a conviction
under the standards of Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S.
307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979)."
Poole, 249 Ga.App. at 410 (1). However, suffice it
to say, neither the trial court nor this Court can undertake
an analysis of the sufficiency of the evidence prior to
trial court intended to dismiss the indictment on speedy
trial grounds, it was first required to evaluate Lewis'
claim under the two-part framework set out in Barker v.
Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101)
(1972), and Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647
(112 S.Ct. 2686, 120 L.Ed.2d 520) (1992). See Johnson v.
State, 300 Ga. 252, 257 (3) (794 S.E.2d 60) (2016).
Because the trial court did not make the required findings of
fact or conclusions of law regarding the
Barker-Doggett analysis, we must vacate the order
and remand the case for further proceedings and the entry of
an order containing the appropriate findings of fact and
conclusions of law. Id. at 258 (3).
vacated and case remanded.
McFadden, P. J., and ...