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New Trial Granted for Defendant in Molestation Case

July 8, 2017

In State v. Byrd, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting the defendant's motion for new trial on the grounds that the verdict was contrary to the evidence.

At trial, the evidence showed that the 12-year-old alleged victim and her cousin visited the defendant’s house. The alleged victim testified that the defendant performed oral sex on her and that they engaged in sexual intercourse. Her cousin testified that the alleged victim and the defendant were in the defendant’s bedroom and that they “messed around.”

The 21-year-old defendant confessed in a recorded interview and wrote a statement describing his encounter with the alleged victim. However, he testified at trial that he confessed out of fear of going to prison and that he felt pressured to write the statement. The defendant was convicted of aggravated child molestation, child molestation, and statutory rape.

The defendant filed a motion for new trial which was granted by the trial court on the general grounds that the verdict was “contrary to the evidence and contrary to the principles of justice and equity.”

The State appealed, asserting that the defendant waived his right to a new trial by failing to address the general grounds at the hearing or in his post-hearing brief. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the general grounds could be addressed at the hearing or just in the motion itself, which the defendant did.

The State asserted that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the motion for new trial because the evidence of the defendant’s guilt was overwhelming and demanded the jury’s verdict.

Though the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, it did not prohibit the trial court from exercising its discretion to grant a new trial or to act as the “thirteenth juror” in considering the credibility of witnesses and the weight of the evidence.

The Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion, noting particularly that the case rested entirely on the credibility of the defendant, the victim, and the witnesses. As a result, the Court affirmed the granting of a new trial and vacated the defendant’s convictions for aggravated child molestation, child molestation, and statutory rape.

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