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Erroneous Jury Charge Leads to Reversal in GA Sexual Battery Case

January 28, 2015

In Madison v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s convictions for sexual battery and aggravated sexual battery, holding that since the alleged victim was over the age of 18, the trial court erred in charging the jury that "[f]orce may be inferred by evidence of intimidation arising from the familial relationship."

The record showed that the defendant was the alleged victim’s stepfather. She testified that in 2003, when she was eleven years old, the defendant massaged her back and then “moved to the front” and touched her breasts. She said that she later denied any inappropriate conduct because her mother and stepfather told her that she “didn’t want to get him in trouble” or to be taken away from her family. An expert for the State testified that children are much more likely to recant previous allegations of abuse where there is a close familial relationship.

In 2009, after the girl had graduated high school, the defendant, an attorney, offered her a job in his law office. She testified that while at the office, the defendant “started fingering me, playing with my vagina.” The defendant contended that they did engage in this conduct but that it was consensual. After a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of child molestation, sexual battery and aggravated sexual battery.

On appeal, the defendant asserted that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial because of a witness’ reference to video recordings of the 2009 incidents at his office. The defendant had successfully moved to suppress the video recordings because they were illegally obtained in violation of O.C.G.A. § 16-11-62 (See, Unlawfully Obtained Evidence Suppressed in GA Child Molestation Case). The trial court granted the defendant’s motion in limine which prohibited any witness from mentioning the videos at trial. At trial, the State called a jailhouse informant who testified that Madison told him “he had f’ed up. That she had recorded him doin’ [it].” The trial court instructed the jury to completely disregard the testimony and the Court of Appeals held that the violation was not sufficiently harmful to warrant a mistrial.

The defendant also argued that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that “[f]orce may be inferred by evidence of intimidation arising from the familial relationship.” The Court stated that this rule of law is taken from prior decisions in rape and sodomy cases involving victims under the age of 18. The Court held that it did not believe that such an instruction was appropriate in a case involving an alleged victim over the age of 18. It was also inappropriate in this case since force is not an element of either sexual battery or aggravated sexual battery. Moreover, the Court held that the charge could have confused the jury because there was no accompanying charge explaining that “mental coercion, such as intimidation, shows force if the defendant’s words or acts were sufficient to instill a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm, violence, or other dangerous consequences to herself or others.” Without this additional charge, the jury may have found intimidation based upon the existence of the familial relationship alone.

Thus, since the question of the girl’s consent went to the heart of Madison’s defense, the Court of Appeals concluded that the erroneous jury instruction required reversal of his sexual battery and aggravated sexual battery convictions.

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