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Dodson v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

January 14, 2020

DODSON
v.
THE STATE.

          DILLARD, P. J., GOBEIL and HODGES, JJ.

          HODGES, JUDGE.

         On the fourth day of a jury trial, John Dollan Dodson changed his plea and entered pleas of guilty to one count each of aggravated assault with intent to commit rape (OCGA § 16-5-21 (a) (1)), kidnapping (OCGA § 16-5-40 (a)), aggravated assault (OCGA § 16-5-21 (a) (2)), and making false statements (OCGA § 16-10-20). The Superior Court of Seminole County denied Dodson's subsequent motion to withdraw his guilty plea, and Dodson appeals, asserting that he received ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel. We find no error and affirm.

         A grand jury indicted Dodson for two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count each of rape, kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated assault, making false statements, criminal attempt to commit subornation of perjury and false swearing, and criminal attempt to commit influencing witnesses. In a pre-trial hearing, the State recited the maximum penalty for each offense and offered to allow Dodson to enter a plea of guilty to rape and serve 25 years followed by probation for life; the remaining seven counts of the indictment would be dismissed. Dodson rejected the State's offer during the hearing:

[COUNSEL]: Judge, I have conveyed [the] offer to Mr. Dodson. We've gone over the specifics of it. We've talked about the pros and cons of going to trial and I've answered any questions he has, and he has indicated to me that he is not interested in pleading guilty and he wishes to proceed to trial.
THE COURT: Mr. Dodson, the only thing I'm interested in is that you understand what you could be subjected to as far as punishment and that any plea offers that have been made that you have a clear understanding. The choice is yours on what to do with that and that is not a concern of mine. I just want to make sure that you have been conveyed that offer and that that is what you understand.
[DODSON]: Yeah, he made me aware of the offer and I told [counsel] that I was - I want to go to trial.
THE COURT: Okay. All right.

         The trial court confirmed that, despite Dodson's rejection, the State's plea offer would "still [be] on the table[.]" Thereafter, the case proceeded to trial.

         On the fourth day of trial, after the State had presented 20 witnesses as part of its case-in-chief and, in particular, after Dodson's girlfriend testified, Dodson appeared "fearful" and asked trial counsel if "the plea [was] still on the table[.]" Trial counsel then discussed a potential plea bargain with the prosecuting attorney and, after receiving an offer, trial counsel reviewed the offer with Dodson. Dodson also discussed the plea offer with his girlfriend and ultimately decided to enter a plea of guilty.

         As the factual basis for the plea, the evidence demonstrated that Dodson waited for the victim inside a darkened mobile home, ambushed her by throwing a blanket over her head and grabbing her, and carried her to the master bedroom of the home. Dodson laid the victim on the bed, partially removed the victim's pants and, as the victim struggled to get away, forcibly inserted his penis into her vagina. The State offered to allow Dodson to plead guilty to the lesser included offenses of aggravated assault with intent to commit rape and kidnapping, as well as to aggravated assault and making false statements; the remaining four charges, as well as additional unindicted charges, would be dismissed. At the beginning of the guilty plea hearing, the following exchange occurred:

[TRIAL COUNSEL]: And Mr. Dodson, let the Judge finish his whole question first -
THE COURT: And I did a poor job in -
[DODSON]: I'm hard of hearing.
THE COURT: Okay.
[TRIAL COUNSEL]: Yeah, if you don't mind, he is hard of hearing.
THE COURT: Okay. Well, what I want you [to] do, if I say something and you don't hear it and you don't understand it, let me know and we'll go over it until you do; okay?
[DODSON]: Yes, sir.

         At no point thereafter did Dodson express any difficulty in hearing or understanding the trial court's statements.[1] After examining Dodson and reviewing the terms of the plea offer, including the sentences Dodson faced, the trial court ...


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