Belton v. State, S98A1537.

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Writing for the CourtBENHAM, Chief Justice.
Citation270 Ga. 671,512 S.E.2d 614
PartiesBELTON v. The STATE.
Docket NumberNo. S98A1537.,S98A1537.
Decision Date22 February 1999

512 S.E.2d 614
270 Ga. 671


No. S98A1537.

Supreme Court of Georgia.

February 22, 1999.

Reconsideration Denied March 18, 1999.

512 S.E.2d 615
Thomas E. Cauthorn III, Cauthorn & Phillips, Jason Lee Nohr, Marietta, for William Jamar Belton

Benjamin F. Smith, Jr., Dist. Atty., Debra H. Bernes, Charles M. Norman, Nancy I. Jordan, Asst. Dist. Attys., Marietta, Thurbert E. Baker, Atty. Gen., Paula K. Smith, Senior Asst. Atty. Gen., Department of Law, Atlanta, for the State.

BENHAM, Chief Justice.

William Jamar Belton appeals his convictions for malice murder, theft by taking of a motor vehicle, and burglary.1 The State adduced evidence at trial to establish the following matters of fact. The 84-year-old victim was found dead in her home by a family member. Her house had been forcibly entered through a window, she had been violently strangled, the house had been ransacked, and the victim's car was missing. Shoe prints from the scene were matched to shoes recovered from Belton's Pennsylvania residence after his arrest there for burglary. His fingerprints were on items in the victim's car, which was recovered in Pennsylvania after a chase by a police officer. A flashlight found in the car was identified as having been stolen from the victim's home. Statements made by Belton to acquaintances and to Pennsylvania authorities after his arrest there set forth a variety [270 Ga. 672] of conflicting versions of how Belton came to be in possession of the victim's car, but in all versions, he came into possession of the car in close proximity to the victim's home on the night of the victim's death.

1. "A conviction based on circumstantial evidence is authorized when every reasonable inference and hypothesis except

512 S.E.2d 616
that of guilt is excluded by the evidence. [Cit.]" Mullins v. State, 269 Ga. 157(1), 496 S.E.2d 252 (1998). The evidence presented by the State in this case, viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, authorized the jury to find that every reasonable hypothesis except Belton's guilt was excluded. Id. The evidence adduced at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find Belton guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of malice murder, theft by taking, and burglary. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979)

2. Although the trial court had previously granted a motion in limine prohibiting any reference to gangs, the prosecuting attorney asked the first panel of prospective jurors, in the presence of the two other panels available for the trial, whether any of them were members of or related to members of such gangs as the Crips, the Folks, or the Bloods. No jurors responded and the question was not repeated to the other panels. Belton subsequently moved for a mistrial, contending that the question violated the trial court's order and put his character in issue. The trial court denied the motion, noting that the jurors had not reacted and that the question had been asked only once. Implicit in the trial court's ruling is an observation that the question had no impact on the jury. "Whether to grant a mistrial is a matter within the discretion of the trial court, and that discretion will not be interfered with on appeal `unless it is apparent that a mistrial is essential to the preservation of the right to a fair trial.' [Cit.]" Cowards v. State, 266 Ga. 191(3)(c), 465 S.E.2d 677 (1996). The trial court was in a unique position to observe the jurors who heard the question and we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's decision that a mistrial was not necessary.

3. In conjunction with a ground of his motion for new trial alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, Belton sought funds to hire an expert to examine biological material recovered from the crime scene. The purported ineffectiveness was trial counsel's failure to have the material tested before trial. Belton argued to the trial court that before he could show the deficient performance prong of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), he needed to determine whether testing would have produced...

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  • Mitchell v. State, S17A0459
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • June 26, 2017
    ...and comparison of physical objects, with matters not of science but of skill 301 Ga. 566 and experience." 802 S.E.2d 221 Belton v. State, 270 Ga. 671, 674 (4), 512 S.E.2d 614 (1999).2 In Belton, this Court looked to Court of Appeals decisions on field sobriety tests to determine, by analogy......
  • Cromartie v. State, S98P1411.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • March 8, 1999
    ...admissible in court under the standards set forth in Harper v. State, 249 Ga. 519, 523-26(1), 292 S.E.2d 389 (1982). In Belton v. State, 270 Ga. 671, 512 S.E.2d 614 (1999), we held with regard to this very issue that the standards of admissibility relating to scientific principles or techni......
  • Home Depot USA, Inc. v. Tvrdeich, A04A0688.
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    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • July 16, 2004
    ...S.E.2d 205 (1999) (visual comparison of shoe imprints is not scientific evidence subject to Harper v. State analysis); Belton v. State, 270 Ga. 671, 512 S.E.2d 614 (1999) (accord); Heller v. State, 234 Ga.App. 630, 631-632(2)(b), 507 S.E.2d 518 (1998) (result of field sobriety test does not......
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    ...evidence of Nance's September 1993 bank robbery to show his intent and bent of mind during the December 1993 crimes. See Belton v. State, 270 Ga. 671(5), 512 S.E.2d 614 (1999); Raulerson v. State, 268 Ga. 623(8), 491 S.E.2d 791 (1997); Williams v. State, 261 Ga. 640(2), 409 S.E.2d 649 (1991......
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