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Court of Appeals Examines Georgia’s Sexual Assault Statute

November 29, 2013

In Ellis v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions for aggravated sexual battery and sexual assault, holding that the trial court properly defined the elements of sexual assault for the jury.

The defendant was a respiratory therapist working for a hospital. Two patients from the hospital separately reported to law enforcement that while the defendant was treating their respiratory problems, he touched their breasts and buttocks and commented that a patient “had a very nice body” and “[got] him turned on.” Another patient reported that the defendant had come into her room to check her breathing, asked her to roll over, and penetrated her vagina with his fingers.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court misinterpreted the term “supervisory authority” in OCGA 16-6-5.1(b)(4), which provides that an agent or employee of a hospital who has supervisory authority over a patient commits sexual assault when he has sexual contact with a patient.

The trial court instructed the jury that “supervisory authority” meant the power to direct compliance. The defendant alleged that this was not a complete definition based on a Georgia Supreme Court case which held that supervisory authority means “the power to direct and enforce compliance.” Randolph v. State, 269 Ga. 147 (1998). The Court of Appeals noted that this definition applied to a person who had both supervisory and disciplinary authority, but that it is possible for an employee to have only supervisory authority. The Court held that supervisory authority could be defined “in the disjunctive, as the power to direct…compliance.” Because the statute does not require that the defendant have disciplinary authority, but only supervisory authority, the Court of Appeals held that the jury instructions were correct.

As a result, the Court of Appeals upheld Ellis’ convictions for aggravated sexual battery and sexual assault.

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