In State v. Crist, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in granting the defendant’s motion for new trial based on a failure to charge the elements of sexual battery.
The Court found that the instructions as a whole properly instructed the jury on the law and that the defendant failed to show that the omission likely affected the outcome.
The defendant was charged with three counts of child molestation and sexual battery involving his stepdaughter. The defendant contended that he had entered the stepdaughter’s room at night to search for his phone and that he may have moved her leg. He denied ever touching her inappropriately.
The jury convicted him of sexual battery but acquitted him on the child molestation counts. The defendant moved for a new trial because the trial court failed to fully instruct the jury, specifically about lack of consent for sexual battery. During the oral charge to the jury, the trial court inadvertently omitted the page detailing the elements of sexual battery. The jury was given the written charge as well to use during deliberations.
The trial court found that the error was obvious and affected the defendant’s substantial rights. It also noted that the jury should have been instructed simultaneously to ensure fairness and should not have been required to rely solely on the written charge.
The State appealed, asserting that the instructions as a whole properly instructed the jury, so the omission in the oral charge was not plain error. The State further argued that the trial court impermissibly shifted the burden to the State of proving that there was no plain error.
The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in granting the defendant’s motion for new trial. The Court reasoned that even if the trial court committed obvious error, the defendant failed to show that the omission likely affected the outcome of the trial.
In support, the Court noted that the indictment, which included the elements for sexual battery, was read to the jury and that the jury was instructed that each element must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Before deliberations began, the indictment was sent into the jury room, as were the written jury instructions which did include the elements of sexual battery.
The Court concluded that there was no evidence that the jury misunderstood the instructions and that the acquittal of the defendant on the child molestation charges showed that the jury understood the law and the evidence.
As a result, the Court of Appeals reversed the grant of the defendant’s motion for new trial and reinstated his sexual battery conviction.
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