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Reason v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, First Division

November 15, 2019

REASON
v.
THE STATE.

          BARNES, P. J., MERCIER and BROWN, JJ.

          BARNES, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         A jury found Richard Reason guilty of burglary in the second degree and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, and the trial court sentenced him as a recidivist under OCGA § 17-10-7 (a) and (c). Reason filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court denied. On appeal, Reason contends that the trial court committed plain error in its jury instruction on the manner in which jurors should consider criminal trespass as a lesser included offense of burglary. Reason also contends that the trial court erred in sentencing him as a recidivist under both subsections (a) and (c) of OCGA § 17-10-7. Upon our review, we affirm.

         "Following a criminal conviction, the defendant is no longer presumed innocent, and we view the evidence in the light most favorable to sustain the verdict." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Phillips v. State, 347 Ga.App. 147, 147 (817 S.E.2d 711) (2018). So viewed, the evidence showed that around midnight on November 29, 2016, a homeowner in Chatham County got up from bed to use the restroom and looked out the window. The homeowner had a locked storage shed in her fenced backyard, but when she looked out the window, she noticed that the door to the shed was open and that a man whom she later identified as Reason was in the shed. She called the police, and two uniformed patrol officers quickly responded to the scene.

         When the officers arrived at the residence and entered the backyard, they saw Reason coming out of the shed. Reason tried to walk away when the officers commanded him to "come here," and he struggled with the officers as they ordered him to stop resisting and tried to handcuff him. One of the officers took Reason to the ground, and the officers eventually were able to handcuff him even though he would not obey their commands. The officers then placed Reason in the back of their patrol car. Once in the car, Reason, who appeared highly intoxicated, made unprompted statements to one of the officers that he had been in the shed, that he tried to get a couple of items, that he was hiding out from some people who wanted to shoot him, that he was in a tough spot, and that he was trying to help his mother. Several items belonging to the homeowner that had been in the shed were located on the other side of the fence in a neighbor's yard and were returned to the homeowner.

         Reason was indicted on several charges, including burglary in the second degree and misdemeanor obstruction of a law enforcement officer.[1] At trial, the homeowner and the two responding officers testified to events as set out above, and the State played for the jury the recordings made from the body cameras worn by the officers. Reason elected not to testify and did not call any defense witnesses. He requested and received a jury charge on criminal trespass as a lesser included offense of burglary. After closing arguments and the charge of court, the jury found Reason guilty of burglary and obstruction.

         At sentencing, the State introduced into evidence Reason's nine certified prior felony convictions. Pursuant to OCGA § 17-10-7 (a) and (c), the trial court sentenced Reason as a recidivist to 5 years in prison on the burglary charge and 12 months in prison on the obstruction charge, with the sentences to run consecutively.

         1. Reason contends that the trial court erred when it instructed the jury on how it should consider criminal trespass as a lesser included offense of burglary on the verdict form. The verdict form read in relevant part:

Count One: Burglary in the Second Degree,
We the Jury find the defendant Richard Reason: ____not guilty ___guilty
Or Criminal Trespass (lesser included offense): ____not guilty ____guilty

         During its charge to the jury, the trial court instructed:

Now, we will provide you the verdict form, and Count One reads: We, the jury, find the Defendant Richard Reason, it's not guilty or guilty. Now, if you find him guilty in burglary in the second degree, you do not consider whether or not he's guilty of criminal trespass. You would leave both blank, you would leave both lines blank on it, it's the next, criminal trespass. If you check "Not guilty" for burglary in the second degree, then you should consider whether he is guilty or not guilty of criminal trespass.

         Reason concedes that because his trial counsel did not object to the instruction, he must prove plain error. According to Reason, the instruction on how to consider criminal trespass was plain error because, when coupled with the fact that the trial court also instructed the jury on the need for a unanimous verdict, the instruction implied that the jury had to reach a unanimous ...


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