Mutually Exclusive Verdict In Georgia Post-Conviction Relief
Determining whether the mutually exclusive verdict rule applies in a Georgia post-conviction relief case can be a difficult proposition. Criminal verdicts often appear inconsistent, and the mutually exclusive verdict rule is intended to protect the criminal defendant against verdicts that are truly contradictory. The Griffin case discussed below illustrates just how difficult mutually exclusive verdict issues are examined on appeal.
Following a jury trial, Lester Casey Griffin was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter based on misdemeanor battery as a lesser included offense of malice murder, felony murder, two counts of cruelty to children, aggravated battery, and aggravated assault.1 On appeal, Griffin contends that the resulting convictions must be reversed because the jury rendered inconsistent verdicts. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.
Griffin v. State, No. S14A1485, 2015 WL 252009, at *1 (Ga. Jan. 20, 2015)
In his sole enumeration of error, Griffin argues that his convictions must be reversed because the verdicts were mutually exclusive. Specifically, Griffin maintains that the verdicts were inconsistent because the jury considered the blow to Dylan’s chest a misdemeanor for the purposes of the involuntary manslaughter verdict and a felony offense for the purposes of the felony murder verdicts. As a result, Griffin contends that all of his convictions must be reversed, see Jackson v. State, 276 Ga. 408(2), 577 S.E.2d 570 (2003), and that he should be granted a new trial. See Thomas v. State, 261 Ga. 854(1), 413 S.E.2d 196 (1992). We disagree.
“Verdicts are mutually exclusive ‘where a guilty verdict on one count logically excludes a finding of guilt on the other. (Cits.)’ [Cits.]” Jackson v. State, [supra, 276 Ga. at 410(2) ]. While guilty verdicts on involuntary manslaughter and felony murder are not mutually exclusive as a matter of law, Smith v. State, 267 Ga. 372(6), 477 S.E.2d 827 (1996), a mutually exclusive verdict may be rendered in a particular case where the offenses underlying the felony murder and involuntary manslaughter convictions “reflect that the jury, in order to find the defendant guilty [of both offenses], necessarily reached two positive findings of fact that cannot logically mutually exist.” (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Flores v. State, 277 Ga. 780, 783(3), 596 S.E.2d 114 (2004). A mutually exclusive verdict results when the jury finds that the defendant acted with both criminal intent and criminal negligence at the same instant regarding the same victim involving the same act. See id. (finding mutually exclusive verdict where appellant was found guilty of both felony murder based on aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter based on reckless conduct as to a single homicide victim).
Drake v. State, 288 Ga. 131, 133(2), 702 S.E.2d 161 (2010). Moreover,
if the predicate offense found by the jury for involuntary manslaughter was simple battery or battery, which are misdemeanor offenses committed with criminal intent, see OCGA §§ 16–5–23(a), 16–5–23.1(a), then the intent element of the battery offenses would be logically consistent with the mens rea required for the felony offense of cruelty to children on which appellant’s felony murder conviction is predicated. See OCGA § 16–5–70(b); Carter v. State, 269 Ga. 420(5), 499 S.E.2d 63 (1998) (involuntary manslaughter based on simple battery not inconsistent with felony murder based on cruelty to children).
Id. at 133–134(2), 702 S.E.2d 161.
This precedent controls the result in this case. In addition to involuntary manslaughter based on simple battery, Griffin was found guilty of felony murder predicated on cruelty to a child, felony murder predicated on aggravated battery, and felony murder predicated on aggravated assault.
Because the predicate offense for involuntary manslaughter was simple battery, it did not require proof of criminal negligence, and the intent element of simple battery was not at all logically inconsistent with the mens rea required for the greater offense of aggravated assault, aggravated battery, or cruelty to children.
(Citations omitted.) Waits v. State, 282 Ga. 1, 3(2), 644 S.E.2d 127 (2007). Accordingly, Griffin’s verdicts were not mutually exclusive, and his convictions must stand.
Griffin v. State, No. S14A1485, 2015 WL 252009, at *1-2 (Ga. Jan. 20, 2015).
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