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Jackson v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 5, 2019



         Following a jury trial, David Jackson was found guilty of malice murder, aggravated assault, and various other offenses in connection with the stabbing death of John Norman Thomas.[1] On appeal, Jackson contends that the trial court committed plain error by giving an incorrect jury instruction on self-defense, that the trial court erred in its re-charge to the jury on voluntary manslaughter, and that his trial counsel was ineffective. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence presented at trial reveals that, on December 24, 2013, Jackson stabbed Thomas multiple times with a steak knife while he was with Thomas in the yard of a home in Warren County. A neighbor who was across the street from the stabbing saw Jackson, who seemed to be on his knees, moving his arm in a stabbing motion towards the ground. The witness then saw Jackson kick Thomas three or four times while Thomas was on the ground. The witness observed Jackson throw something in the bushes and then return to kick Thomas again. Jackson walked away from Thomas, leaving him dying in the yard. The neighbor called Jackson's girlfriend, Eula Evans, and told her to come and get Jackson. The neighbor then called 911, and she crossed the street, finding Thomas bleeding heavily in the yard.

         An officer who responded to the scene attempted to communicate with Thomas, who was still alive at the time, but Thomas was unable to speak. Thomas had suffered at least forty-seven sharp force injuries, including ten stab wounds to his head and neck and five stab wounds to his torso. Thomas died from the stab wounds to his neck and torso.

         Police found a black-handled steak knife with blood on it in the dirt driveway outside of the house where the stabbing had taken place, and no weapons were found on Thomas. Police also discovered drops of blood leading away from the scene and along the route that Jackson had walked after the stabbing. DNA testing later revealed that the blood drops leading away from the scene belonged to Jackson, and that two sets of blood profiles were present on the knife. The major blood profile on the sharp tip of the knife and the hilt of the knife where the blade joins the handle belonged to Thomas, and the only place on the knife where the major blood profile belonged to Jackson was on the handle.

         Police saw Jackson at the same hospital where Thomas had been taken after the stabbing, as Jackson was there to be treated for a laceration to the side of his face, a small wound to his abdomen, and some abrasions to his head. Jackson later claimed in an interview with police that Thomas had attacked and stabbed him, and that Jackson took the knife away from Thomas before stabbing him two or three times. Jackson also claimed in his statement that Thomas was still trying to fight him after Jackson had stabbed Thomas to defend himself and had walked away from Thomas.

         Although Jackson has not challenged the sufficiency of the evidence in this case, it is our customary practice to review the sufficiency of the evidence in murder cases. See, e.g., Wainwright v. State, 305 Ga. 63 (1) (823 S.E.2d 749) (2019). Having done so, we conclude that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to reject Jackson's claim of self-defense and find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979); Cotton v. State, 297 Ga. 257, 258 (1) (773 S.E.2d 242) (2015) (despite defendant's claim of self-defense, jury is "free to accept the evidence that [a] stabbing was not done in self-defense and to reject any evidence in support of a justification defense") (citation and punctuation omitted).

         2. Jackson contends that the trial court committed plain error[2]by giving a pattern jury instruction on self-defense that included language stating that the defendant must not have acted "in the spirit of revenge" at the time that he was defending himself in order to properly claim self-defense. Compare Code 1933, § 26-1012 (stating that party asserting justification defense must have "acted under the influence of [the] fears [of a reasonable man], and not in a spirit of revenge") with OCGA § 16-3-21 (containing no "spirit of revenge" language and stating that "a person is justified in using force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony").[3]

         In order to satisfy the test for plain error,

[f]irst, 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. Second, the legal error must be clear or obvious, rather than subject to reasonable dispute. Third, the error must have affected the appellant's substantial rights, which in the ordinary case means he must demonstrate that it affected the outcome of the trial court proceedings. Fourth and finally, if the above three prongs are satisfied, the appellate court has the discretion to remedy the error - discretion which ought to be exercised only if the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) State v. Kelly, 290 Ga. 29, 33 (2) (a) (718 S.E.2d 232) (2011).

         "[A] jury instruction must be adjusted to the evidence and embody a correct, applicable, and complete statement of law." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Roper v. State, 281 Ga. 878, 880 (2) (644 S.E.2d 120) (2007). Here, there was no error in giving the jury charge in question, as this Court has previously determined that, despite the fact OCGA § 16-3-21 does not contain language indicating that a defendant must show that he or she did not act in the spirit of revenge in order to assert self-defense,

when comparing the current language of OCGA § 16-3-21 with the previous statute that included the "spirit of revenge" language . . . "[i]n essence the old law and the new law have the same standard as to justification of homicide." Brooks v. State, 227 Ga. 339, 342 (3) (180 S.E.2d 721) (1971). Therefore, the instruction at issue [that included the "spirit of revenge" language] is [still] a correct statement of the law.

Pena v. State, 297 Ga. 418, 425 (6) (b) (774 S.E.2d 652) (2015). Because the trial court did not clearly err by giving the self-defense charge in question, Jackson does not ...

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