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Indictment Held Sufficient in GA Internet Child Sting Case

October 29, 2013

In State v. Cohron, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the granting of the defendant’s motion to quash his indictment, holding that it was not essential that the indictment contain a statement that the victim may have been a fictitious person created by law enforcement.

The evidence showed that the defendant engaged in online chat sessions with an undercover police officer who had identified himself to the defendant as a fourteen year-old girl. The chats included a webcam video in which the defendant masturbated. The defendant was arrested and then indicted in Gwinnett County Superior Court for three counts of obscene internet contact with a child. The defendant filed a special demurrer and motion to quash the indictment. The indictment alleged that the defendant unlawfully and intentionally had “contact with someone he believed to be a child under the age of sixteen years, to wit: a person identified as a fourteen year-old female named D’anea with a screen name of absolutelyordinary14, via a computer Internet service.” While the indictment identified the alleged “victim” by name, it did not include the name of the undercover officer. As a result, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to quash the indictment.

To determine whether an indictment is constitutionally sufficient, the issue is not whether the indictment could have been made more definite, but rather whether it contains the elements of the offense to be charged and “sufficiently apprises the defendant of what he must be prepared to meet…” The Court of Appeals also noted that under Georgia law “where a defendant challenges the sufficiency of an indictment by filing of a special demurrer before going to trial, he is entitled to an indictment perfect in form.”

The Court of Appeals noted that the constitutional purpose of identifying the victim is to put the defendant on notice of the charges against him. The Court said that it is best for an indictment to identify a victim by the full and correct name, but because this is not always possible, it is permissible to use the name by which the victim is generally known. The Court reasoned that in a situation where the “victim” is in fact an undercover officer, the defendant only knows the officer by the fictitious online persona. Recently, in State v. Grube, the Georgia Supreme Court held that an indictment was sufficient when it identified the victim as “Tiffany, a person believed to be a 14 year-old girl.” Therefore, the Court held that the indictment was not required to include the undercover officer’s real name.

This was distinguished from Dennard v. State, where the Court of Appeals held that the indictment was deficient as it did not identify the victim in any manner and did not state, explicitly or implicitly, whether or not the victim was an actual child or person.

As a result, the Court held that Cohron’s indictment was not subject to a special demurrer and reversed the trial court’s ruling on his motion to quash.

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