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GA Supreme Court Reverses Pro Se Petitioner’s Molestation Conviction

August 6, 2014

In Humphrey v. Williams, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the defendant’s child molestation conviction should be reversed since his trial attorney failed to obtain readily available court records which could have excluded or impeached the testimony of a similar transaction witness.

Williams was indicted for statutory rape, child molestation and contributing to the delinquency of a minor stemming from allegations made by his 13 year-old stepdaughter and her 14 year-old friend. At trial, the State was permitted to present evidence of a prior similar transaction involving his 20 year-old daughter, Jessica, in which she alleged that Williams molested her back in 1993.

Following his conviction and unsuccessful appeal, Williams filed a pro se habeas corpus petition alleging that his attorney at trial provided ineffective assistance of counsel. He alleged that his attorney’s pretrial investigation was deficient because he failed to obtain juvenile court records from Florida which would have shown that Jessica’s allegations were false.

At trial, Williams stated to the court that he was unhappy with his trial attorney for failing to obtain the court records from Florida. The records were then produced for the habeas court. The records showed that Jessica had made a litany of inconsistent statements regarding these allegations. The records contained a report by a social worker who stated that Jessica “told conflicting and confusing accounts of alleged misconduct by her father.” The social worker concluded that there was “no conclusive evidence of any wrongdoing by Mr. Williams,” and stated that “[i]t is my clinical opinion that…no actual abuse occurred.”

The records also contained a letter from Jessica’s school psychologist who stated that she “tries to control others by using rumors and gossip,” and “lies easily and shows little remorse when her behavior causes problems for others.”

Williams produced the records for the habeas court and showed that they were readily available to trial counsel. He argued that if his trial attorney had conducted a competent investigation, his daughter’s testimony would have been excluded or impeached, and there was a reasonable probability that the verdict would have been different.

The Supreme Court noted that similar transaction evidence “is very damaging evidence in a criminal case, particularly a child molestation trial,” and that Jessica’s similar transaction testimony “eroded [Williams’] credibility and severely weakened his defense.”

The Court pointed out that despite being made aware of the records and their significance to the case, Williams’ trial counsel “made no effort whatsoever” to obtain the records prior to trial. The Court further noted that the Florida court records “provided an obvious source of information and evidence for presentation at the similar transaction hearing to try to exclude her testimony altogether and for impeachment if Jessica was allowed to testify at trial.”

The Court also found that the documents were readily available. The records were located directly across the state line from Decatur County. Additionally, Williams was able to obtain them with little difficulty despite the fact that he was working pro se from a Georgia prison.

The Court held that since counsel failed to conduct an adequate investigation of readily available evidence, his failure constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. As a result, Williams’ conviction was reversed and his case will be remanded for a new trial.

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