Family Violence Battery

FAMILY VIOLENCE BATTERY

A conviction for Family Violence Battery in Georgia can have consequences that go far beyond a conviction for other misdemeanors.   Frequently, I meet with individuals who come to our office with citations from a police officer charging our client with battery or simple battery.  The stories range in complexity, but often I learn from our initial consultation that the alleged victim in the case is someone who can elevate the charges from Battery to Family Violence Battery.  Many times the Officers do not include the Family Violence component on the citation and clients are surprised to learn that their case can be modified by the State prosecutor to include even more consequences.  For some clients, this is their first interaction with law enforcement and their concerns include: jail time, criminal history reports, and trial options.   All of these concerns are very real when facing Family Violence Battery charges.

Before we get started with the impacts of a Family Violence Battery conviction, it’s important to note that not all charges for Battery and Simple Battery have a Family Violence Battery component.  In order to be charged with Family Violence Battery the alleged victim must be:

  • A spouse
  • Persons who are parents of the same child
  • Children
  • Step-Children
  • Foster Children
  • Other persons living in the same household (roommates)

State prosecutors will often include multiple counts of Battery, Simple Battery, and Family Violence Battery within one formal charging document, called an accusation.  Unfortunately, many people go to court on their first court date, without exploring the consequences of a Family Violence Battery conviction, and enter a plea.   Whether the person committed the acts alleged or they simply just want to put this chapter of their life behind them, even though they’re innocent, it’s vital to consult with an attorney.  At the very least, an attorney can discuss the implications of being convicted of Family Violence Battery.

So how does it work?  Every citizen who has been arrested for a crime is fingerprinted and has criminal history created that includes the arrest, the charging document (accusation or indictment), and the ultimate outcome of the case.  A first conviction for Family Violence Battery is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in custody and a $1000 fine.  A second or subsequent conviction with the same family member (as classified above) or another family member results in a felony conviction with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.   O.C.G.A. 16-5-23.1.

While a first lifetime conviction of Family Violence Battery appears to be just a misdemeanor, there are several ancillary consequences that do always appear at first glance.  For instance, under Federal law, any person convicted of a crime of domestic violence can no longer lawfully possess a firearm.   Georgia’s classification of Family Violence Battery falls within the Federal definition of “domestic violence.”  Thus, a Georgia citizen who has a conviction of Family Violence Battery can no longer possess a firearm without the possibility of facing criminal charges in Federal court.

In addition, while the maximum includes 12 months in custody and a $1000 fine, many Judges throughout the State will require individuals convicted of Family Violence Battery to serve time on probation in lieu of jail time, but with the conditions of completing a domestic violence program.  These programs go by several different names, but they generally include 24 weeks of classes, counseling, and program fees that are no included in the fine levied by the Judge.  In addition, Judges can add community service, counseling requirements, fines, and alcohol and drug evaluations.  It is important to know that all of these things can be negotiated by your attorney.

Being charged with Family Violence Battery can be a stressful event in anyone’s life.  At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to explore the legal issues with every Family Violence Battery case.  We are aware of all the possible options available to avoid jail time and to protect your criminal history and ultimately your privacy.   If you or a loved one has been charged with Family Violence Battery, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

What Is Arraignment?

WHAT IS ARRAIGNMENT?

“What is arraignment?”

That’s the first question every client asks us when they receive their first court date, and it’s a great one.   Most of our clients have either received a court date prior to meeting with us or they were told when they leave the jail that they will receive an arraignment date in the near future.  So, what is arraignment?

In Georgia, every person is entitled to due process of law under the Georgia Constitution and the United States Constitution.  A citizen’s due process rights include the right to be placed on notice of any charges the State intends to seek.   The State files charges through either a formal indictment or accusation. These documents are ultimately the framework of how the case will proceed.  As such, arraignment is the first opportunity for the court to inform the accused of the charges against them.  Under Georgia law, every person accused of a crime has the right to be arraigned.  Formal arraignment is when the court reads the charges in open court and an accused has an opportunity to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty. courtroomdoorfrombench1 (1)

So what actually happens in court at the arraignment hearing?  From a practical stand-point three things happen at arraignment.   First, one of our lawyers will likely inform the court that we are waiving formal arraignment (reading of the charges in open court) because we have received the actual charging document and we would prefer, for the sake of privacy, for our clients charges not to be read in front of hundreds of people.  Second, we enter a plea of not guilty.  At this juncture the State has not provided the evidence they intend to use at trial and we would essentially be accepting guilt without evaluating the case.  Thus, it makes sense to plead not guilty, collect evidence, and then proceed accordingly.  Finally, we inform the court that we will be filing legal motions and ask the court for ten-days to file.  Legal motions cover many issues including asking the Judge to force the State to provide evidence, suppress evidence, hold a hearing on legal issues, and many other topics.

If you have been charged with a crime then your case will eventually be set for an arraignment hearing.  Please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation at either our downtown location or our Marietta location to discuss arraignment and how we can help with your case.

GEORGIA LEGISLATURE CHANGES MUGSHOT LAWS

A few months ago  we talked about the legality of having your mugshot posted all over the internet (see: Georgia Mugshot Websites). Recently, the Georgia General Assembly took another hard stance against companies who prey on those who are booked through Georgia jails.  Our legislature made some drastic changes to the Georgia mugshot laws.

Georgia law now requires that law enforcement agencies refrain from posting booking photographs on their jail inmate website.  The General Assembly went on to limit access to any booking photographs by restricting access to those who are (1) not using the photo for purposes for written publication or website publication; and (2) the person trying to obtain the photograph is not asking for removal or deletion of the booking photograph in exchange for money.  Law Enforcement agencies now can only release photographs to individuals who sign a statement affirming that the use of the photograph will NOT be for purposes of mugshot websites.

The General Assembly obviously recognized there was a serious problem with websites extorting those who have been booked through the criminal process.  Already, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Department has taken steps to remove all photographs from their jail website in accordance with the new law. Hopefully, these steps will put an end to for profit mugshot websites.

Please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 if you have been arrested in Georgia and you need help getting your mugshot removed.

How do I get a bond?

If you or a loved one has recently been arrested, the first thing on your mind is getting out of jail.  Unfortunately, the process of bonding out is more complicated than expected.  So, what do you need to know to get out of jail as quickly as possible?

1)      Will I get a bond?  If so, when?

In Georgia, the rules are organized according to whether the arrest offense is a felony or a misdemeanor.  If it is a misdemeanor, then you are entitled to a bond by law.  If the charge is a felony, then it is in the judge’s discretion whether to grant bail.  There are certain serious offenses for which only a superior court judge can grant bail.  In that case, the superior court will be notified of your arrest within 48 hours.  The superior court is then required to set a bond hearing within 30 days after receiving the notice.  However, if you file a petition for a bond, then the hearing must be held within 10 days after receiving the petition.

2)      What does the court consider when determining whether to grant bond and when determining high the bond should be? 

Judges consider four factors when determining whether to grant bond, and when determining how much the bond should be: (1) Are you a risk to run away and not come back to court?; (2) Do you pose a threat or danger to people or property in the local community?; (3) Is it likely that you will commit a felony before your case is resolved?; and (4) Are you likely to intimidate witnesses against you?

3)      Once I get a bond, what are my options for covering the amount? 

Cash bond – This requires you to put up the entire bond amount in cash or by money order.  Most people cannot afford the entire amount, and that is where bondsmen come in.  As long as you are able to pay 13-15% of the bond, then a bondsman will put up the money for you and require that you pay a fee.

*The money that you pay to bond out will be refunded at the close of the case as long as it is not forfeited by your failure to appear in court.  The fee to the bonding company will not be refunded. 

Property bond – You may be able to put up real property (house or land) as a way to guarantee your appearance in court.  Generally, you must have enough equity in the home or property to cover the amount of the bond.  In some places, you have to have twice the amount of the bond in equity.  Most bondsmen will still help you bond out of jail, and they may accept more than just real property.  For example, some will allow you to put up the title to your car as a guarantee that you will return to court.  Remember, if you use property to bond out and you fail to appear in court, then you are at risk of losing that property!

If you or a loved one have recently been arrested and want help bonding out, do not hesitate to contact us at 404-581-0999. You can trust that our firm will do everything possible to get you or your loved one out of jail and to make the process as simple and painless as possible.

During jury selection, the prosecutor cannot make remarks which would prejudice the panel. Doing so, requires the panel to be excused under a challenge to the poll.

NEW CASE just published

Bell v. State, A11A0118 (July 5, 2011).

Following his 2005 conviction for rape, defendant appealed from the denial of his motion for new trial.

During voir dire, the panel member stated that he had heard of a person named James Bell who was accused of a previous sexual assault in another county, and asked if it was the same person because the victim in that assault was his grandmother.

The State responded: “Your grandmother is [name omitted]?” To which the juror responded: “My grandmother is Ardella [name omitted].”

When questioned if he knew James Bell, the juror responded that he did not, but wondered if it was the same person.

The State then responded: “I can’t go into the past. That’s what the judge was getting at and that’s what I’m getting at. We can’t talk about what happened in the past, just talking about today.

The juror was then asked whether his relationship with his grandmother would affect his ability to be fair and impartial, he responded that “I would hope so. I guess I could because I don’t know James Bell. I can’t say that I know him.”

Defense counsel requested to approach and moved for a mistrial.

Although the motion for mistrial was premature – the proper procedural tool for the defense to have used was either a “challenge to the poll” or a motion for a postponement to impanel other jurors who had not heard the remark. However, regardless of the label which defense counsel placed on his motion, his import was clear, i.e., that the prospective jurors had been prejudiced by the remarks and that the appellant was entitled to a new panel from which to choose a jury to hear his case.

The law in Georgia provides “[w]hen a prejudicial matter is improperly placed before the jury, a mistrial is appropriate if it is essential to the preservation of the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

Due process requires “a jury capable and willing to decide the case solely on the evidence before it, and a trial judge ever watchful to prevent prejudicial occurrences and to determine the effect of such occurrences when they happen.”

Here, although the prospective juror at issue said he was not sure if the defendant was the same James Bell accused of raping of his grandmother, rather than leave the questioned unanswered, and move on to another juror, the State elicited more information from the juror. Specifically, the State asked if the juror’s grandmother was ” [name omitted]” thereby providing the other prospective jurors with the name of another alleged rape victim in a crime for which Bell was not on trial.

This comment by the state was inherently prejudicial and deprived Bell of his right to begin his trial with a jury free from even a suspicion of prejudgment or fixed opinion.

Because the trial was tainted from the beginning, Bell’s conviction was reversed.

Conviction for Kidnapping overturned where asportation (carrying away of victim) was minimal

Since the seminal 2008 case of Garza v. State, 284 Ga. 696, 701-702 (1) (670 SE2d 73) (2008), the courts have held the prosecutors must prove the asportation element of kidnapping. The Courts will look at four factors to determine the sufficiency of the evidence of asportation in kidnapping cases. Those four factors are: (1) the duration of the movement; (2) whether the movement occurred during the commission of a separate offense; (3) whether such movement was an inherent part of that separate offense; and (4) whether the movement itself presented a significant danger to the victim independent of the danger posed by the separate offense.

July 1, 2011, the Court of Appeals released THOMAS v. THE STATE, 2011 Ga. App. LEXIS 591. Chris Thomas was convicted by a jury of kidnapping, armed robbery, four counts of aggravated assault and two counts of aggravated battery. Davis, the victim, testified he had just finished a live broadcast at his radio station when someone came up from behind and put an arm around his neck, placing him in a “death” choke. Davis said at first he thought someone was playing a joke, and he said “I give up, you win.” Davis testified that as he remained in the choke hold, a third person threw bleach into his eyes; however, because of the angle from which it was thrown, he was blinded only in his right eye. At that point, he started to fight back. He planted his feet and shot straight back at the person who had him in the choke hold and a struggle ensued. As he continued to struggle on the floor, one of the assailants tried to get duct tape around his eyes. As the struggle continued, he and his assailants moved about seven to ten feet across the floor and just slightly outside of the studio room before he was subdued and taken back into the studio room and then tortured.
The Court held the movement was of short or minimal duration, clearly occurring during the course and incidental to the assaults. Although the State argued that the danger to Davis was increased by this movement since it took him out of view if someone might have happened to look into the window located in the studio room, the argument ignored the fact Davis was moved back into that room as soon as he was subdued. The movement was not to “substantially isolate” Davis from protection or rescue, but was merely a “criminologically insignificant circumstance” attendant to the assaults being committed against him.
Thus, the State could not make out the asportation element. The case was reversed and remanded.