Dawson v. State, S20A0217

CourtGeorgia Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWarren, Justice.
Parties DAWSON v. The STATE.
Docket NumberS20A0217
Decision Date04 May 2020

308 Ga. 613
842 S.E.2d 875

DAWSON
v.
The STATE.

S20A0217

Supreme Court of Georgia.

Decided: May 4, 2020


Jessica A. Seares, for Appellant.

Paul L. Howard, Jr., District Attorney, Lyndsey Hurst Rudder, Marc A. Mallon, Assistant District Attorneys, Christopher M. Carr, Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula Khristian Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, for Appellee

Warren, Justice.

A jury convicted Lavaris Dawson of felony murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting death of Mamadou Camara.1 On appeal, Dawson contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, that the trial court erred by admitting Dawson's statements to a detective during an interview because those statements were impermissibly induced by a hope of benefit, and that Dawson was denied his due process right to a timely appeal. We disagree and affirm Dawson's convictions.

1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdicts, the evidence presented at Dawson's trial showed the following. On the night of February 19, 2007, Camara attempted to purchase stolen electronics from Kevin Pope, who lived at the Highland Brook Apartment Complex. After arriving at the apartment complex and giving money to Pope, who walked away to retrieve the electronics while Camara remained in the car, Camara was shot and killed in an attempted carjacking. Because investigators initially were unable to uncover enough information to make an arrest, Camara's murder went unsolved for several months.

In June 2007, however, Detective Mark McGowan, the lead detective on the case, was notified that an inmate, Richard Burkes, wanted to share information about Camara's murder. Burkes informed Detective McGowan that Burkes witnessed the murder. Burkes described the shooter as "a black male, not very tall, with a dark complexion with gold in his mouth, and some dread locks"—a description matching Dawson. Law enforcement was already aware of Dawson from earlier investigation of the case, so Detective

842 S.E.2d 878

McGowan presented a photographic lineup to Burkes that contained Dawson's picture. Burkes told Detective McGowan that Burkes was not sure if the shooter was pictured and circled a man who was not Dawson, saying that the man looked like the shooter. But Burkes also told Detective McGowan that another person in the lineup—who was, in fact, Dawson—could have been the shooter. Burkes informed Detective McGowan that Pope was present at the scene of the crime, and Burkes identified Pope in a photographic lineup.

Police arrested Pope, who had previously denied knowing anything about the murder, for making false statements. After Pope was arrested, he independently mentioned Dawson to Detective McGowan and identified Dawson from a photograph. According to Detective McGowan's trial testimony, Pope "identified Lavaris Dawson as the shooter in the case" and told Detective McGowan that Dawson told Pope that "[Camara] had taken something from [Dawson] and that he did what he had to do."

Police arrested Dawson for Camara's murder. After being advised of the Miranda warnings,2 Dawson consented to a custodial interview with Detective McGowan, in which Dawson admitted that he was at the scene with a handgun on the night Camara was killed. According to Dawson, he and another person had guns and "were just shooting." Dawson told Detective McGowan:

I was shooting in the air at first, but then I pointed at—but I was still shooting in the air—but I guess aiming towards [Camara's] way ... and then he was driving off and I heard the window break ... I don't know if I did it or not ... I was shooting over the car—well, I thought I was, but if I wasn't, then hit that window ... then it spun out of control and he crashed.

That recorded interview was played for the jury at Dawson's trial.

Burkes also testified at Dawson's trial. According to Burkes's trial testimony, he was sitting in his parked car in the parking lot of the apartment complex about 30 feet away from where Camara was parked. Burkes saw Pope approach Camara's car, Camara give some money to Pope, and then Pope walk around to the other side of the apartment building. Burkes testified that while Pope was away, a young man—whom Burkes did not know and who "was about 5’5" tall with "gold fronts [and] dreads"—approached Camara's car with a gun and attempted to carjack Camara, telling him, "I want the car, get out the car." When Camara refused, the gunman shot at Camara, and as Camara attempted to speed off, the gunman shot at him again through the back, right window.3 Camara's car then crashed into a parked van. Burkes testified that the shooter "just went up the steps [to an apartment], changed his clothes, [and] came back down." Burkes identified Dawson in court as a person he had previously identified in the photographic lineup who he thought could be the shooter.

Pope also testified at trial and identified Dawson in court as the only person he saw with a gun on the night of the murder. Pope said he spoke with Dawson days after the murder, and Dawson told Pope, "I shot" because "[Camara] wouldn't give it up." Another witness who lived in the apartment complex testified at trial that after she heard gunshots, she saw three men running, one of whom she identified as Pope, and another of whom she described as "short with dreads, kind of brown-skinned." She also testified that Pope and the man with dreads had changed into different clothes by the time the police arrived.

2. Dawson argues that without certain hearsay testimony and custodial statements that he says were inadmissible and improperly admitted, the evidence was insufficient to prove that he committed the crimes for which he was convicted. We disagree.

Specifically, Dawson argues that Pope's testimony that Dawson told him, "I shot" because Camara "wouldn't give it up";

842 S.E.2d 879

Burke's testimony that he heard the shooter tell Camara, "I want the car, get out the car"; and Detective McGowan's testimony that Pope told him that Dawson said he "did what he had to do" because Camara took something from Dawson were inadmissible hearsay. And because generally speaking, under Georgia's old Evidence Code,4 "erroneously-admitted hearsay" was deemed to have no probative value and therefore could not be considered in determining the sufficiency of the evidence, Livingston v. State , 268 Ga. 205, 209, 486 S.E.2d 845 (1997) ; see also Cowart v. State , 294 Ga. 333, 343 n.12, 751 S.E.2d 399 (2013), Dawson argues that these three statements cannot be considered in our sufficiency review and that the remaining evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. The applicability of this old Evidence Code exception to our sufficiency review, however, does not change the outcome in Dawson's case, because the first two statements he complains of were admissible at trial, and—even assuming that the third statement was inadmissible—the evidence was still sufficient to support his convictions.

As for the first statement—Pope's testimony that Dawson told him, "I shot" because Camara "wouldn't give it up"—Dawson's argument fails to recognize that under our old Evidence Code, "[a]dmissions of a party opponent are admissible as exceptions to the hearsay rule." Bostic v. State , 294 Ga. 845, 848, 757 S.E.2d 59 (2014) ; see also, e.g., Lewis v. State , 293 Ga. 110, 114, 744 S.E.2d 21 (2013) (witness's testimony that defendant told him that defendant and co-defendant discussed killing victim was admissible because "[a]ny statement or conduct of a person, indicating a consciousness of guilt, where such person is, at the time or thereafter, charged with or suspected of crime, is admissible against him upon his trial for committing it") (citation and punctuation omitted); Russell v. State , 265 Ga. 203, 204, 455 S.E.2d 34 (1995), overruled on other grounds by Terry v. State , 291 Ga. 508, 731 S.E.2d 669 (2012) (trial court did not err by allowing State to present testimony that after victim's death, the defendant "threatened someone by saying she had killed one person and would not mind killing another person" because the statement was deemed an admission).5 Dawson's statement, as communicated through Pope's testimony at trial, was not inadmissible hearsay because the State elicited it as an admission of a party opponent, which is admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule.

Likewise, the second statement—Burke's testimony that he heard the shooter tell Camara, "I want the car, get out the car"—was also admissible. That is because under our old Evidence Code's res gestae exception, "[d]eclaration[ ] accompanying an act, or so nearly connected therewith in time as to be free from all suspicion of device or afterthought, shall be admissible in evidence as part of the res gestae." Former OCGA § 24-3-3. Because Burke's testimony about hearing the shooter demand that Camara get out of the car immediately before shooting Camara was a "declaration[ ] accompanying an act," it was admissible as part of the res gestae. See, e.g., Tesfaye v. State , 275 Ga. 439, 443, 569 S.E.2d 849 (2002) (witness's testimony that he heard one perpetrator in a robbery and murder say to another, "Oh, s—t, why did you do that, man?" was admissible as res gestae because perpetrator's statement was "uttered contemporaneously with [the] pertinent acts, and serve[d] to...

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12 practice notes
  • Tyson v. State, S21A0774
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • October 5, 2021
    ...the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant." (Citations, punctuation, and footnote omitted). Dawson v. State , 308 Ga. 613, 623 (4), 842 S.E.2d 875 (2020). "Importantly, we have repeatedly found ... the failure to make this showing of prejudice in an appellate de......
  • Matthews v. State, S21A0318
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • May 17, 2021
    ...exhortations or encouragement to tell the truth do not constitute a hope of benefit under the statutory standard. See Dawson v. State , 308 Ga. 613, 618 (3), 842 S.E.2d 875 (2020) ; Reed v. State , 307 Ga. 527, 533 (2) (a), 837 S.E.2d 272 (2019). Nor was there any evidence that the investig......
  • Matthews v. State, S21A0318
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • May 17, 2021
    ...exhortations or encouragement to tell the truth do not constitute a hope of benefit under the statutory standard. See Dawson v. State , 308 Ga. 613, 618 (3), 842 S.E.2d 875 (2020) ; Reed v. State , 307 Ga. 527, 533 (2) (a), 837 S.E.2d 272 (2019). Nor was there any evidence that the investig......
  • Russell v. State, S20A0910
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • September 8, 2020
    ...de novo." Thomas v. State , 308 Ga. 26, 29 (2) (a), 838 S.E.2d 801 (2020) (citation and punctuation omitted). See also Dawson v. State , 308 Ga. 613, 619 (3), 842 S.E.2d 875 (2020). (a) Russell argues that all his statements to law enforcement were involuntary because the statements were ma......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • Tyson v. State, S21A0774
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • October 5, 2021
    ...the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant." (Citations, punctuation, and footnote omitted). Dawson v. State , 308 Ga. 613, 623 (4), 842 S.E.2d 875 (2020). "Importantly, we have repeatedly found ... the failure to make this showing of prejudice in an appellate de......
  • Matthews v. State, S21A0318
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • May 17, 2021
    ...exhortations or encouragement to tell the truth do not constitute a hope of benefit under the statutory standard. See Dawson v. State , 308 Ga. 613, 618 (3), 842 S.E.2d 875 (2020) ; Reed v. State , 307 Ga. 527, 533 (2) (a), 837 S.E.2d 272 (2019). Nor was there any evidence that the investig......
  • Matthews v. State, S21A0318
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • May 17, 2021
    ...exhortations or encouragement to tell the truth do not constitute a hope of benefit under the statutory standard. See Dawson v. State , 308 Ga. 613, 618 (3), 842 S.E.2d 875 (2020) ; Reed v. State , 307 Ga. 527, 533 (2) (a), 837 S.E.2d 272 (2019). Nor was there any evidence that the investig......
  • Russell v. State, S20A0910
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • September 8, 2020
    ...de novo." Thomas v. State , 308 Ga. 26, 29 (2) (a), 838 S.E.2d 801 (2020) (citation and punctuation omitted). See also Dawson v. State , 308 Ga. 613, 619 (3), 842 S.E.2d 875 (2020). (a) Russell argues that all his statements to law enforcement were involuntary because the statements were ma......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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