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Victoria v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 5, 2019



         Following a jury trial, Jerome Marquis Victoria appeals his convictions for felony murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, contending only that he received ineffective assistance of counsel regarding a potential plea deal offer.[1] For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         1. In the light most favorable to the verdict, the record shows that, on October 14, 2006, Tosaki Voshon Forrest went looking for Victoria at the home of an acquaintance. Forrest believed that Victoria had stolen guns from him and wanted to talk to Victoria about it. After learning that Victoria was in the master bedroom of the home, Forrest, who was unarmed, went in to speak to Victoria. From outside the bedroom, witnesses heard Forrest state, "So that's how it is," and, "All right, Bootsie, all right, all right."[2] Gunshots followed, and Forrest ran out of the home, only to collapse on the ground outside where he died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

         When police responded soon thereafter, they saw Victoria running from the residence and stopped him. Victoria stated that he and Forrest had been robbed and attacked by unknown perpetrators. A witness then approached and informed the investigating officer that Victoria had fired a gun inside the residence. The officer searched Victoria and located a box of .22- caliber bullets in his left front pants pocket, a pistol grip in his right front pants pocket, and an ID for a person named Antonio Johnson. Victoria was then arrested and transported to the jail.

         Subsequent investigation revealed that the shooting occurred in the master bedroom, as evidenced by three bullet holes in the wall and the discovery of two live .22-caliber rounds. The police found a Lorcin .380 semiautomatic handgun and a Rohm .22-caliber revolver at the edge of a neighbor's yard across the street.[3] The Lorcin did not contain any rounds; however, the Rohm contained four shell casings and two live rounds. The Lorcin appeared to be jammed and was missing a grip like the one found in Victoria's pocket. Testing showed that the .22-caliber bullet recovered from the victim's body was fired from the Rohm revolver found at the scene.

         This evidence was sufficient to enable the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Victoria was guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). [4]

         2. In his sole enumeration of error, Victoria contends that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to fully inform him about the consequences of a pretrial offer for a plea deal that he repeatedly rejected. Generally,

[i]n order to succeed on his claim of ineffective assistance, [Victoria] must prove both that his trial counsel's performance was deficient and that there is a reasonable probability that the trial result would have been different if not for the deficient performance. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674) (1984). If an appellant fails to meet his or her burden of proving either prong of the Strickland test, the reviewing court does not have to examine the other prong. Id. at 697 (IV); Fuller v. State, 277 Ga. 505 (3) (591 S.E.2d 782) (2004). In reviewing the trial court's decision, "'[w]e accept the trial court's factual findings and credibility determinations unless clearly erroneous, but we independently apply the legal principles to the facts.' [Cit.]" Robinson v. State, 277 Ga. 75, 76 (586 S.E.2d 313) (2003).

Wright v. State, 291 Ga. 869, 870 (2) (734 S.E.2d 876) (2012).

         With regard to the prejudice prong,

[i]n a case such as this one, involving the alleged ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of a rejected plea offer, the United States Supreme Court has held that where the performance of a criminal defendant's trial counsel was deficient, the defendant "must show the outcome of the plea process would have been different with competent advice." Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 163 (II) (B) (132 S.Ct. 1376, 182 L.Ed.2d 398) (2012). Three criteria must be met to satisfy the prejudice prong of the Strickland test. The defendant must show:
[1] that but for the ineffective advice of counsel there is a reasonable probability that the plea offer would have been presented to the court (i.e., that the defendant would have accepted the plea and the prosecution would not have withdrawn it in light of intervening circumstances), [2] that the court would have accepted its terms, and [3] that the conviction or sentence, or both, under the offer's terms would have been less severe than under the judgment and sentence that in fact were imposed.
Id. at 164. See also Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. 134 (132 S.Ct. 1399, 182 L.Ed.2d ...

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