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Court Affirms Joinder of Statutory Rape and Molestation Charges for Trial

December 22, 2014

In Algren v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction for statutory rape, holding that the trial court properly joined the defendant’s indictments for statutory rape and child molestation because the defendant failed to show that the jury would have been unable to distinguish the evidence and apply the law to each separate offense.

The record showed that S.H., who was 14 at the time, and her 16 year old brother took scuba diving lessons from the defendant. After one lesson, S.H.’s brother offered to get fast food. While he was gone, the defendant went with S.H. into a back room of the dive shop and had sexual intercourse. A few days later, the defendant called S.H. at her home and asked her if she wanted to have sex again. While the two were on the phone, S.H.’s uncle, with whom she lived, picked up the phone and listened to almost the entire conversation. He realized that S.H. was speaking with the defendant. S.H.’s uncle confronted her about the conversation and she admitted that she had had sexual intercourse with the defendant. S.H.’s uncle reported the incident to law enforcement.

Approximately a year and a half later, the defendant was living with his girlfriend and her two young children. K.R., the girlfriend’s nine year old daughter, told a counselor that the defendant had come into her room and touched her private parts. The counselor told K.R.’s mother about the allegation and reported it to DFCS and law enforcement.

The defendant was indicted for one count of statutory rape related to the incident with S.H. He was charged in a separate indictment with two counts of child molestation related to the incident involving K.R. The court granted the State’s motion to join the indictments and try the three charges in a consolidated trial. A jury found the defendant guilty of statutory rape and not guilty of child molestation. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in joining the indictments for a consolidated trial.

The Georgia Supreme Court has previously noted that joining unrelated charges creates a risk of prejudice to the defendant. To address that risk, the Court has held that a defendant has a right to sever charges that are joined solely because they are of “the same or similar character.” Severance is not required when evidence of one offense could be admitted as similar transaction evidence during the trial of the other offense. If this is the case, severance may still be appropriate. A court must ask whether “in view of the number of offenses charged and the complexity of the evidence to be offered, the trier of fact will be able to distinguish the evidence and apply the law intelligently as to each offense.”

The Court of Appeals noted that the consolidated trial did not involve a large number of offenses – only a single count of statutory rape related to S.H. and two counts of child molestation related to K.R.’s allegations. Neither the facts at issue nor the evidence needed to prove those facts was complex or difficult to understand. The Court thus found that the defendant could not show that there was any risk the jury would not be able to distinguish the evidence and apply the law to each separate offense. The Court found that the verdict of not guilty on the child molestation counts showed that the jury understood the law and the evidence. Thus, the Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in joining the charges for trial.

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