Failure to Merge Criminal Law Charges May Lead to Vacating the Conviction

Georgia Supreme Court Rules on Complaint of Failure to Merge Criminal Law Charges

The United States is a nation built on laws intended to maintain order within our society. When someone breaks the law, justice is meted out. It sounds so simple, but most crime is not that cut and dried, and it’s in the gray areas that the challenge to the law arises, because while society demands justice, even those convicted of violent crime have rights. The struggle to balance those rights sometimes raises questions that layer over one another.

In 2009, 57 year old Daisy Pearl Brown of Swainsboro, Georgia, was fatally stabbed in her home. Her tenant, Michael Alvin Reddings, called 911 to report her death. Emergency responders found the door to her trailer had been forced open, blood spatters throughout the house, and the victim in the bathroom, dead from six stab wounds in the head, neck, torso, and back. Wounds to her hands were consistent to typical defense injuries, indicating that Ms. Brown had tried to prevent her death.

Mr. Reddings was ultimately convicted of murder, aggravated assault, and two weapons possession counts and sentenced to life without parole, followed by 5 years (consecutive) for the first weapons count and 25 years (concurrent) for the second. He filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied. He then appealed that denial to the Georgia Supreme Court, claiming trial court reversible error. His motion contended that the court erred when it denied his request for a change of venue, and again when it failed to merge the assault conviction and the murder conviction.

Vacating Conviction Strengthens Georgia Criminal Law Defense

On February 4th, 2013, The Supreme Court upheld Redding’s murder conviction and found no abuse of discretion concerning venue, but it vacated the sentence on one of his weapons charges as well as the conviction of aggravated assault. While this ruling does not set aside Mr. Reddings’ murder conviction, it does strengthen the law on merges, oftentimes a crucial approach in a Georgia criminal defense lawsuit.

Citing numerous supporting decisions, including Drinkard v. Walker (2006), Coleman v. State (2009) and Grell v. State (2012) and referring to OCGA § 16-1-7 (a), which establishes double jeopardy protection, prohibiting multiple convictions (and punishments) for the same offense, the Justices found that the Court had erred when it did not merge the charges.

There was an exception, however, that the Justices also considered and addressed: separate convictions are allowed in instances of a “deliberate interval” between a non-fatal injury and the fatal injury, as found in Coleman, 286 Ga. at 295 (3), Ortiz v. State, 291 Ga. 3 (3) (727 SE2d 103) (2012), and Lowe v. State, 267 Ga. 410 (1) (b) (478 SE2d 762) (1996), but the Court found that it was impossible to establish which of Ms. Brown’s injuries were inflicted first or even the order of each occurrence. Thus, evidence of a “deliberate interval” between the injuries could not be proven, and Reddings’ aggravated assault conviction and the associated weapons possession conviction were vacated.

Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you’re facing a criminal charge in Georgia, you need an experienced attorney on your side. Call Atlanta criminal defense attorney Lisa Wells today for legal help.