he was tried by an Early County jury and found guilty of ten
aggravated assaults, Jason Edwin Wilkerson filed a motion for
new trial. The trial court granted his motion as to three of
the assaults, concluding that the evidence was legally
insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that
Wilkerson was guilty of those assaults, and concluding as
well that a new trial was warranted upon the "general
grounds." The State appealed, and in State v.
Wilkerson, 348 Ga.App. 190 (820 S.E.2d 60) (2018), the
Court of Appeals reversed the determination that the evidence
was legally insufficient, see id. at 193-196 (1), and vacated
the grant of a new trial on the general grounds. See id. at
196-198 (2). With respect to the general grounds, the Court
of Appeals acknowledged that a trial court has substantial
discretion to award a new trial under the general grounds,
see id. at 196-197 (2), but it concluded that the trial court
abused its discretion by improperly conflating the standard
for the general grounds and the distinct standard by which
the legal sufficiency of the evidence is assessed. See id. at
198 (2). We issued a writ of certiorari to review the
decision of the Court of Appeals as to the general grounds,
and we now reverse.
Court of Appeals was right to note that the general grounds
and a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence
present distinct issues. As we explained in White v.
State, 293 Ga. 523, 523-524 (1), (2) (753 S.E.2d 115)
[When we] assess the legal sufficiency of the evidence . . .,
we apply the familiar standard of Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560)
(1979), asking whether any rational trier of fact could find
beyond a reasonable doubt from the evidence adduced at trial
that [the defendant] is guilty of the crimes of which he was
convicted. As to the legal sufficiency of the evidence, we
view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict,
and we put aside any questions about conflicting evidence,
the credibility of witnesses, or the weight of the evidence,
leaving the resolution of such things to the discretion of
the trier of fact. . . . Even when the evidence is legally
sufficient to sustain a conviction, a trial judge may grant a
new trial if the verdict of the jury is "contrary to . .
. the principles of justice and equity," OCGA §
5-5-20, or if the verdict is "decidedly and strongly
against the weight of the evidence." OCGA § 5-5-21.
When properly raised in a timely motion, these grounds for a
new trial- commonly known as the "general
grounds"-require the trial judge to exercise a broad
discretion to sit as a "thirteenth juror." In
exercising that discretion, the trial judge must consider
some of the things that she cannot when assessing the legal
sufficiency of the evidence, including any conflicts in the
evidence, the credibility of witnesses, and the weight of the
(Citations and punctuation omitted.) But absent some
indication in the record to the contrary, we generally
presume that trial judges understand this distinction, see
Wilson v. State, 2 Ga. 106');">302 Ga. 106, 108 (II) (a) (805
S.E.2d 98) (2017), and here, the record gives us no reason to
conclude that the trial court erroneously conflated the
general grounds and the legal sufficiency of the evidence.
Indeed, in its order granting the motion for new trial, the
trial court cited Jackson for the standard by which
the legal sufficiency of the evidence is to be assessed, and
it cited OCGA §§ 5-5-20 and 5-5-21 for the standard
under the general grounds. Separately applying these distinct
standards, the trial court concluded that the motion should
be granted under both standards: "The Court
finds that the convictions for Counts 6, 7, and 8 are
strongly against the weight of the evidence, are contrary to
the evidence and the principles of equity and justice, and
there was not sufficient evidence to allow a rational trier
of fact to find [Wilkerson] guilty of these Counts."
That the trial court announced its separate conclusions in
one sentence does not show legal error.
is nothing in the record to support the determination of the
Court of Appeals that the trial court erroneously conflated
the standards for the general grounds and the legal
sufficiency of the evidence and did not, therefore, properly
exercise its discretion under the general
grounds. To the extent that the Court of Appeals
vacated the grant of a new trial on the general grounds, its
judgment is reversed.
reversed in part. All the Justices concur.
Bethel, Justice, concurring.
argument of this case, the State suggested that affirming the
Court of Appeals' reversal of the trial court's grant
of a motion for new trial on the general grounds was
warranted because the trial court "got it wrong."
Because this argument echoes arguments advanced by the State
in recent cases before this Court, see, e.g., State v.
Beard, Case No. S19A0535 (decided October 31, 2019), I
write separately in hopes of briefly clarifying the history,
role, and proper review standard applicable to the general
the advent of our collective sovereignty, the people of
Georgia have entrusted Judges of the Superior Court with
great and extensive powers. From the earliest days of
statehood, those powers have included the power to grant a
new trial when the judge finds the verdict to be
"contrary to evidence and principles of justice and
equity." Robert Watkins and George Watkins, 1799 Watkins
Digest of Statutes 707-708 (1800). Indeed, prior to
codification, it appears this authority had its roots in the
common law. 3 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of
England 387 (1768). (judge authorized to grant new trial
"if it appears by the judge's report, certified by
the court, that the jury have brought in a verdict without or
contrary to evidence, so that he is reasonably dissatisfied
therewith"). This authority now can be found in OCGA
§ 5-5-20, which provides that trial court judges may
grant new trials "when the verdict of the jury is found
contrary to evidence and the principles of justice and
equity." This power was exercised by Judges of the
Superior Court without any independent appellate review prior
to the establishment of this Court in 1845.
the earliest terms of this Court's jurisprudence, we had
occasion to examine the extent and nature of this power. And
we did. See Peck v. Land, 2 Ga. 1, 16 (1847)
(affirming trial court's denial of new trial); Hall
v. Page, 4 Ga. 428, 438 (1848) (holding that trial
courts were only allowed to set aside a jury verdict if it
was "clearly against evidence, or manifestly without
evidence"); Stroud v. Mays, 7 Ga. 269, 273-274
(1849) (reversing grant of new trial where trial court deemed
verdict contrary to evidence); Flournoy v. Newton, 8
Ga. 306, 312 (1850) (same); Walker v. Walker, 11 Ga.
203, 205-206 (1852) (same); Powell v. Bigley, 14 Ga.
41, 43 (1853) (same); Williamson v. Nabers, 14 Ga.
286, 310 (1853) (same, explaining that trial judges cannot
set aside verdicts against the weight of evidence
"unless the preponderance be so great as to shock the
understanding, and moral sense" because to do so
infringed on the right to trial by jury). Following this
earliest appellate consideration of the then-existing
statute, the General Assembly, in 1854, buttressed this rule
through the enactment of additional language now found in
OCGA § 5-5-21, which provides that "[t]he presiding
judge may exercise a sound discretion in granting or refusing
new trials in cases where the verdict may be decidedly and
strongly against the weight of the evidence even though there
may appear to be some slight evidence in favor of the
finding." See also Ga. L. 1853-1854, p. 47, § 3.
Collectively, OCGA §§ 5-5-20 and 5-5-21 are
commonly called the "general grounds" and have been
referred to as the "thirteenth juror" rule by the
bench and bar of this State. These rules create a weighty and
longstanding power designed to provide the trial court with
an opportunity to avoid an injustice. As this Court has
noted, the general grounds ask whether the trial judge is
personally "satisfied" with the jury's verdict.
Manuel v. State, 289 Ga. 383, 386 (711 S.E.2d 676)
(2011). See also Mills v. State, 188 Ga. 616,
623-625 (4) (4 S.E.2d 453) (1939) (describing motions
asserting the general grounds as "an appeal to [the
judge's] judicial conscience"). Trial judges retain
"the strongest of discretions" when reviewing
motions based on the general grounds. Manuel, 289
Ga. at 386.
court properly exercises its discretion when it
"weigh[s] the evidence and consider[s] the
witnesses' credibility and evidentiary conflicts before
[exercising] its discretion as the sole arbiter of the
general grounds." Martin v. State, ___ Ga. ___
(833 S.E.2d 122) (2019). As this Court explains again in this
case, when a trial court properly articulates and applies the
legal standard governing the general grounds, we afford great
deference to the decision of the trial court. See, e.g.,
State v. Denson, ___ Ga. ___ (833 S.E.2d 510)
(2019); Morton v. State, 306 Ga. 492 (831 S.E.2d
740) (2019); State v. Hamilton, 299 Ga. 667, 670
(791 S.E.2d 51) (2016). Cf. Manuel, 289 Ga. at
385-386 (merely issuing an order in response to a motion
predicated on the general grounds does not fulfill this
requirement when "the language in the order fails to
indicate that the trial court . . . exercise[ed] its
discretion under the applicable standard."). The general
grounds authorize a trial court to grant a new trial even if
the evidence is legally sufficient to sustain the verdict,
and trial courts err when they conflate these two concepts.
Holmes, 304 Ga. at 531-32; White, 293 Ga.
at 524; Manuel, 289 Ga. at 386-387.
deference flows from a proper consideration of the nature of
proper appellate review and not from a lack of
appreciation for the severity and attendant costs associated
with the exercise of this power to grant a new trial. Indeed,
we have consistently recognized that trial courts
ought to be exceptionally wary of undoing the work
of a jury. See White, 293 Ga. at 524-525. But,
because this authority is vested in the trial court and
necessarily involves questions ...