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GA Supreme Court Vacates Sexual Battery Conviction on Habeas

January 27, 2016

In State v. Garland, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the reversal of the defendant's conviction for sexual battery involving a child on the basis that his appellate attorney failed to pursue a meritorious legal issue on appeal that would have resulted in the granting of a new trial.

The evidence showed that six years prior to the alleged offense, the defendant suffered a series of strokes that resulted in significant cognitive disorders. Experts testified that the defendant suffered from anxiety, depression, and Asperger-type social problems which rendered him incapable of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the offense. The experts also believed that his condition would have significantly affected his ability to assist his trial attorney with the defense. The experts stated that they would have been available and willing to testify at the defendant’s trial, or at his motion for new trial, if they had been requested to do so.

It was clear that had trial counsel properly investigated the defendant’s mental health history, he would have discovered the evidence establishing that the defendant was not competent to stand trial, and that his mental condition provided a valid defense to criminal responsibility. This gave rise to a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel that could have been raised on appeal. However, the defendant’s appellate attorney failed to pursue this legal issue and actually withdrew the defendant’s motion for new trial without the defendant’s knowledge. By withdrawing the motion, the attorney essentially waived the defendant’s right to raise this issue on appeal.

It was concluded that there was a reasonable probability that had the evidence of the defendant’s mental health issues been properly presented at trial, or even prior to trial, the outcome of the proceedings would have been different. As a result, the defendant’s sexual battery conviction was reversed.

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