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Jacobs v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 19, 2019

JACOBS
v.
THE STATE.

          MELTON, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Following a jury trial, Betty Jacobs appeals her convictions for the murder of her ex-husband, Davis Jacobs, and possession of a handgun during the commission of a crime, contending that she received ineffective assistance of trial counsel.[1] For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         1. In the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence at trial shows that Betty and Davis divorced in May 2007 for the second time after a long history of domestic difficulties, including multiple occasions on which Betty either fired a handgun at Davis or held one to his head and threatened to shoot him. Around the time of the second divorce, Betty habitually visited Davis's private office, [2]where the two would frequently argue about financial and personal matters, including Davis's extramarital affairs. Witnesses reported that Betty started the arguments, and, approximately a week prior to shooting Davis, Betty raised her hand and told Davis "to shut up or she would hit him." On August 21, 2007, Betty found old photographs of Davis with his former mistress, causing a fight between the two. Betty threatened to shoot Davis, and struck him in the back as he was leaving Betty's home. Davis then spent that evening in his office, and the following evening at a hotel.

         On the morning of the shooting, Betty requested that Davis meet her in his private office at his place of business. Davis did so. A short time later, witnesses heard multiple gunshots, after which Davis exited the private office and collapsed. When police arrived, they found Betty sitting calmly in the private office, and Davis's body was in the adjacent hallway with a hammer on the ground next to his head. Betty claimed that Davis threatened her with the hammer, she shot him in self-defense, and she placed the hammer by his body so police would see it. At trial, Betty buttressed this defense with the argument that she suffered from battered person syndrome. Betty testified that Davis had physically abused her throughout their marriage, and that he routinely prescribed her addictive prescription drugs.

         At trial, however, numerous witnesses testified that Betty was generally the aggressor during her arguments with Davis, and that she previously threatened to kill him. Witnesses also observed Betty physically assault Davis and use firearms to intimidate him multiple times-including a prior incident in Davis's private office when Betty fired a handgun, causing a bullet to enter the wall above Davis's shoulder. The couple's sons testified that Davis would "always be the peacemaker."

          This evidence was sufficient to enable the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Betty was guilty of the crimes for which she was convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). See also, Roper v. State, 281 Ga. 878 (1) (644 S.E.2d 120) (2007) (witness credibility is for the jury to decide, as is the question of justification; therefore, the jury is free to reject a claim that the defendant acted in self-defense).[3]

         2. Betty contends that her trial counsel[4] rendered ineffective assistance by: (a) failing to convey a potential plea offer to her for her consideration; (b) failing to object to allegedly inadmissible hearsay testimony; and (c) failing to present evidence and request a jury instruction regarding the defense of involuntary intoxication. These contentions have no merit.

In order to succeed on [her] claim of ineffective assistance, [Betty] must prove both that [her] 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). Furthermore, "reasonable trial strategy and tactics do not amount to ineffective assistance of counsel." (Citation omitted.) Johnson v. State, 286 Ga. 787, 791 (2) (692 S.E.2d 575) (2010).

         (a) Betty first contends that trial counsel were ineffective for failing to convey a potential plea offer to her for her consideration and failing to advise her regarding the offer. We disagree.

         As an initial matter, it is undisputed that no formal written plea offer was ever presented in this case. At the motion for new trial hearing, the prosecutor recalled that, prior to trial, he spoke to one of Betty's trial lawyers and asked whether Betty might be interested in a plea deal, but no deal was offered at that time because any such offer would first have to be approved by Davis's family. The prosecutor further testified that Betty's attorney indicated that Betty would not be interested in the plea deal. Betty's trial lawyer to whom the prosecutor spoke had a slightly different recollection, however. Betty's trial lawyer testified that the prosecutor mentioned the possibility of a deal at an informal gathering, and the prosecutor stated that, if the family was interested in any deal in the future, he would send a written offer to Betty's counsel. No such offer was ever sent, and Betty's trial lawyer did not remember rejecting any and all potential deals outright. Betty's trial lawyer did testify with certainty, however, that he would have conveyed an offer to Betty if one had been made.

         Regardless of the existence of any potential deal, we need not parse its nature or the manner in which it was handled by trial counsel, as Betty has not shown prejudice. Where a defendant alleges that a plea offer was not disclosed to her, 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. ...


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