Huggins v. State, A21A1694

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtReese, Judge
Citation362 Ga.App. 450,868 S.E.2d 840
Parties HUGGINS v. The STATE.
Docket NumberA21A1694
Decision Date01 February 2022

362 Ga.App. 450
868 S.E.2d 840



Court of Appeals of Georgia.

February 1, 2022

868 S.E.2d 842

Scott Chandler Huggins, for Appellant.

Penny Alane Penn, Sandra Ann Partridge, for Appellee.

Reese, Judge

362 Ga.App. 450

Following a bench trial, Frank Huggins was convicted of sexual assault of a student and sexual battery.1 On appeal, Huggins argues that: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for sexual assault of a student, because he did not work at a "school" and was not a "teacher" under the 2016 version of OCGA § 16-6-5.1 ; and (2) trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to file a demurrer to the indictment on those grounds. For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm.

Construing the evidence in favor of the trial judge's determination of the defendant's guilt,2 the record shows the following. In September 2016, Brandi Cammarata enrolled her 16-year-old daughter, L. S., for on-the-road driving lessons offered through Lanier Technical College. L. S. was a student at Flowery Branch High School and had already completed 30 hours of online driving classes. On September 8, 2016, L. S. received her driver's license in the morning, and was scheduled for her on-the-road driving lesson that afternoon. Even though L. S. had already obtained her license, Cammarata insisted L. S. have on-the-road lessons before driving on her own.

Cammarata and L. S. went to the Cumming campus of Lanier Technical College. Huggins arrived as L. S.’s driving instructor in a vehicle marked with Lanier Technical College's logo. Cammarata drove home while L. S. began her lesson with Huggins. The driving lesson vehicle was equipped with an in-car camera, which recorded the driving lesson with both sound and video. The video of the lesson was admitted into evidence, and the trial court watched the video in its entirety.

During the lesson, Huggins repeatedly touched L. S.’s upper thigh. After watching the video, L. S. counted 17 to 20 times where Huggins had touched her thigh. They drove to Huggins's house, and L. S. texted her mother and her boyfriend for help. L. S. was able to leave the car and spoke to Cammarata on the phone while in Huggins's driveway. L. S. cried when talking to her mother. After the call, she told Huggins that her mother was waiting for her back at the college, and the two drove back to the campus.

At trial, Timothy McDonald testified that he was an executive vice president at Lanier Technical College and oversaw the driving education program. Funding for the program was provided by

362 Ga.App. 451

Joshua's Law.3 Drivers must be between 15 and 18 to enroll in the college's driving class. The program consisted of thirty hours of classroom instruction and six hours of behind the wheel, and drivers could participate in either part of the program or both.

The college was required to go through training by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety to become an authorized training center. The college owned and maintained the vehicles used for the driving program. For the classroom portion of the program, while the college set the curriculum and final exam, the instructors had discretion in how they ran the class, including whether or not to give intermediate tests and quizzes. For the driving portion of the program, the college provided a list of maneuvers that a driver should be able to complete, and the instructor decided whether the driver met these criteria. The major duties for a driving instructor

868 S.E.2d 843

listed in the job description included "assess[ing] the student's skills, knowledge and/or abilities," "providing feedback to students and administration," "instruct[ing] students," "manag[ing] student behavior," and "prepar[ing] teach[ing] materials."

Joan Lee, the director of continuing education at Lanier Technical College, testified that she ran the driver's education course at the college. The instructors were employees of the college, had to go through a training certification to become a driving instructor, and had access to their students’ information in the college database. Lee testified that Huggins was one of the college's main instructors, teaching at least half of the classes. She referred to Huggins as the "lead instructor" and testified that he had helped train the other instructors at the college. Instructors followed the curriculum provided by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, but they had discretion to add to the curriculum.

The trial court found Huggins guilty of sexual assault of a student and sexual battery. The trial court denied Huggins's motion for new trial, and this appeal followed.

"The interpretation of a statute is a question of law, which is reviewed de novo on appeal."4 "[U]nless clearly erroneous, this Court will uphold a trial court's factual determinations with respect to claims of ineffective assistance of counsel; however, a trial court's legal conclusions in this regard are reviewed de novo."5 With these guiding principles in mind, we now turn to Huggins's claims of error.

362 Ga.App. 452

1. (a) Huggins argues that Lanier Technical College is not a "school" under the 2016 version of OCGA § 16-6-5.1, and thus the evidence at trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction for sexual assault of a student.

In 2016, OCGA § 16-6-5.1 provided:

A person who has supervisory or disciplinary authority over another individual commits sexual assault when that person:

(1) Is a teacher, principal, assistant principal, or other administrator of any school and engages in sexual contact with such other individual who the actor knew or should have known is enrolled at the same school[.]6

"School" was defined under the statute as "any educational program or institution instructing children at any level, pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade, or the equivalent thereof if grade divisions are not used."7

In analyzing whether the college and its driver's education course was a "school" under the statute,

we are mindful of the applicable principles of statutory construction and look diligently for the intention of the General Assembly. In so doing, the ordinary signification shall be applied to all words. Where the language of a statute is plain and susceptible to only one natural and reasonable construction, courts must construe the statute accordingly. Criminal statutes are construed strictly against the State, they must be read according to the natural and obvious import of their language, and their operation should not be limited or extended by application of subtle and forced interpretations.8

Applying the definition of "school" under OCGA § 16-6-5.1 is an issue of first impression for this Court. Nevertheless, even under a strict construction of the statute, Lanier Technical College and its

362 Ga.App. 453

corresponding driver's education course met the definition of school under the 2016 version of OCGA § 16-6-5.1. Although L. S. attended a


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1 practice notes
  • Priddy v. State, A21A1308
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • February 1, 2022
    ...examination of each prospective juror from which the jury is to be selected prior to interposing a challenge." OCGA § 15-12-133. 868 S.E.2d 840 That Code section, however, does not mandate sequestered or isolated voir dire. Id.; Mathis v. State , 249 Ga. 454, 455 (1), 291 S.E.2d 489 (1982) ......
1 cases
  • Priddy v. State, A21A1308
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • February 1, 2022
    ...examination of each prospective juror from which the jury is to be selected prior to interposing a challenge." OCGA § 15-12-133. 868 S.E.2d 840 That Code section, however, does not mandate sequestered or isolated voir dire. Id.; Mathis v. State , 249 Ga. 454, 455 (1), 291 S.E.2d 489 (1982) ......

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