Serious Injury By Vehicle Charges in Georgia: Is Any Error In Jury Charges Too Much?
Serious injury by vehicle charges in Georgia are among the most serious vehicle-related criminal offenses that one case face under Georgia law. In many jurisdictions, the pre-trial recommendations for serious injury by vehicle charges in Georgia are extremely harsh. Due to the severity of pre-trial offers, many defendants go to trial in serious injury by vehicle cases with very difficult facts based upon their best guess as to parole eligibility. I had no involvement in Holman v. State, which is discussed below, but the facts in Holman are very difficult. Nonetheless, there are some important lessons to be drawn from Holman with regard to the scrutiny (or lack thereof) that our appellate courts employ in the review of trial court decisions in serious injury by vehicle cases in Georgia.
SERIOUS INJURY BY VEHICLE CHARGES IN GEORGIA: THE FACTUAL BACKGROUND OF HOLMAN
Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury’s verdict, the record reflects that in the late afternoon of June 30, 2007, Holman was traveling on Interstate 85 when his car crossed the median and made impact with the elderly victim’s vehicle. As a result of this collision, the victim lost consciousness at the scene, sustained lacerations to the face, bruising to the chest, bruising to internal organs, a fractured vertebrae, and an injury to the bowel that was so severe it required removal of a portion of that organ and left the victim with bulging intestines.
Witnesses to the crash testified that, prior to the accident, Holman’s vehicle weaved around the road; was traveling at over 75 miles per hour, or at an “incredible rate of speed”; aggressively passed other cars on the interstate; and then careened over the median, fish-tailed across the road, and struck the victim’s vehicle. One of these witnesses also testified that when she approached Holman to render aid, she immediately noticed that he “reeked” of an alcoholic beverage and had “very, very red” eyes.
Likewise, the responding law-enforcement officer testified that Holman smelled of an alcoholic beverage, had watery and bloodshot eyes, and spoke with slurred, slow speech. The officer also testified that Holman did not understand an initial explanation of Georgia’s implied-consent notice and became irate and belligerent when the officer explained it again before refusing to consent to a State-administered chemical test because he “knew” that he would have alcohol in his system. According to the officer, Holman also admitted to drinking heavily the night before, with his last beverage being consumed at approximately 5:00 a.m. Lastly, the officer testified that, given the foregoing, he considered Holman an impaired driver. Holman was convicted by a jury of the offenses enumerated supra, and this appeal follows.
At the outset, we note that on appeal from a criminal conviction, “the defendant is no longer entitled to a presumption of innocence and we therefore construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury’s guilty verdict.” With this guiding principle in mind, we turn now to Holman’s enumerations of error.
Holman v. State, No. A14A1284, 2014 WL 5461801, at *3 (Ga. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 2014)
SERIOUS INJURY BY VEHICLE CHARGES IN GEORGIA: IS ANY ERROR JURY CHARGES TOO MUCH AFTER HOLMAN?
Criminal defendants and attorneys defending serious injury by vehicle charges in Georgia rely upon the allegations contained within the indictment for the purpose of developing a defense. We rely upon the specific way that the State indicts serious injury by vehicle charges because there are multiple different ways that a defendant can commit the offense of serious injury by vehicle in Georgia, and we presume that the State will indict the Defendant in the way that it alleges in the indictment.
Our law, as reviewed initially by the Court in Holman, said that we, as criminal defense attorneys in Georgia, were correct in making these presumptions. Nonetheless, the trial court in Holmaninstructed the jury on various different ways that a defendant could be found guilty of committing the offense of serious injury by vehicle, and the trial court included ways that were not included in the indictment pending against the defendant:
(ii) As to the serious-injury-by-motor-vehicle instruction, Holman contends that the trial court gave the charge in such a way as to permit the jury to convict him in a manner not alleged in the indictment when the court included all of the various ways in which the crime may be committed, including “organic brain injury.” And here, the indictment alleged that Holman committed the offense by “depriving [the victim] of a member of his body and by rendering a member of his body useless, to wit, a closed head injury, resulting in a loss of consciousness, laceration of the right brow, bruised liver and injury to his spine ….”
It is unquestionable that, in criminal prosecutions, “the court’s instructions must be tailored to fit the charge in the indictment and the evidence adduced at trial.”26 In particular, this is true when the offense charged “may be committed in one of several ways, but the indictment charges one specific method.”27 Indeed, averments in an indictment as to the specific manner in which a crime was committed are “not mere surplusage,”28 and “[s]uch averments must be proved as laid, or the failure to prove the same will amount to a fatal variance and a violation of the defendant’s right to due process of law.”29 Accordingly, the instructions from the trial court must “sufficiently limit the jury’s consideration to the allegations and elements of the offense as charged in the indictment.”30 And in determining whether a charge contained error, “jury instructions must be read and considered as a whole.”31
Here, the trial court erred by adding “organic brain injury” to its jury charge. Nevertheless, any defect in the charge was cured by the jury being provided with the indictment and instructed that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt all material allegations in the indictment and all essential elements of the crimes charged. Accordingly, the trial court’s charge did not constitute reversible error.
Holman v. State, No. A14A1284, 2014 WL 5461801, at *4-5 (Ga. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 2014).
If you have a question about a serious injury by vehicle case in Georgia, contact Ben Sessions at The Sessions Law Firm – (470) 225-7710.
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