Hughes v. State, A13A0553.

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Citation323 Ga.App. 4,746 S.E.2d 648
Docket NumberNo. A13A0553.,A13A0553.
PartiesHUGHES v. The STATE.
Decision Date15 July 2013


John L. Hughes, pro se.

John Richard Edwards, Patrick H. Head, D. Victor Reynolds, Marietta, for Appellee.

PHIPPS, Chief Judge.

John Lorenzo Hughes was convicted of hijacking a motor vehicle, armed robbery, attempted kidnapping, obstruction, and marijuana possession. Pro se on appeal, Hughes challenges the sufficiency of the evidence as to each offense; he also contends that the trial court erred by denying his request to charge the jury on accident, by denying his request to continue the hearing on his motion for new trial, and by rejecting his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm.

1. When an appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction, “the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” 1

So viewed, the state's evidence showed the following. At about 1:00 a.m. on November 20, 2010, a lone driver stopped her BMW at a red light. Hughes quickly approached the car, opened its passenger door, sat down in the front passenger seat, grabbed the woman's purse, put it on his lap, then told her: “Drive or die.” The woman saw that Hughes had in his hand a sock, which was covering an object; Hughes was pointing the sock-covered object at her. The object was later revealed to be a large rock, but the woman discerned it at the time to be a gun. Hughes repeatedly threatened the woman that, if she did not cooperate with him, she would die.

The driver fled the car on foot and ran to a nearby gas station parking lot. Hughes slid into the driver's seat. Then, the woman later testified, “I heard the gears scraping and scrubbing as if he did not know how to drive [my] six-speed vehicle,” describing the car also as a “stick shift.” The vehicle coasted into the middle of the intersection, then stopped.

Meanwhile, a marked police cruiser approached the intersection and stopped at the red light. The patrolling officers noted the BMW proceeding slowing through the red light, then stopping in the middle of the intersection; they saw a woman pointing at the BMW and heard her yelling for help and screaming that the man in the BMW had robbed her, taken her car, and tried to kidnap her. The officer driving the patrol car activated its blue lights. Hughes looked up with a startled expression on his face, immediately exited the vehicle, then fled the scene on foot, while holding the woman's purse in his hand. The uniformed police officers chased Hughes on foot, repeatedly commanding Hughes to halt. Hughes dropped the victim's purse, but continued to run until apprehended by police. During a search incident to arrest, police found marijuana in Hughes's pocket.

When initially taken to jail, Hughes was not accepted for booking because he complained of experiencing blurred vision, which he attributed to having been attacked earlier that night by several males. The arresting officer saw no injuries on Hughes, but transported him to a hospital where he was examined by a doctor. Medically cleared, Hughes was returned to jail and booked.

Hughes was the sole witness for the defense. He testified that, shortly after midnight on the night in question, he went to an apartment building that was in the vicinity of the intersection to conduct a drug transaction. As he was leaving the apartment building, he was struck on the head by a male, and the two of them began fighting. Hughes recounted that several other individuals aided his opponent, and he (Hughes) was struck multiple times in the head and kicked on the sides of his body. Hughes escaped his attackers, and in running away, encountered the BMW stopped at the red light. He testified, “I recall jumping in. And in that state of mind I could have said, ‘Drive.’ But what I implied to her wasn't that I would kill her, per se, but more of, if we stay here, bad things might happen.” Hughes testified that he asked the driver repeatedly to drive him away from that neighborhood, while he continued “looking around for these individuals. When I spot[ted] them, I admit I might have screamed at her and called her a name and told her to drive. I'm not going to deny that I did that because, like I said, I was scared for my life at that point.” Hughes testified that he never threatened that he would harm the driver, asserting, [M]y implication was that something could happen to us if we stayed there.... I think what I said was more along the lines of, drive or we might die or we're going to die.” Hughes claimed at trial that he had not had a rock in a sock and that he had told the driver that he wanted neither her car nor her money. Yet, she fled the car. And the car began rolling into the intersection. So he slid into the driver's seat to stop the car, but did not know how to operate its manual transmission.

Hughes was asked why, if he was afraid for his life because of pursuing attackers, he had run away from the police when they arrived; he answered that he had panicked because he had drugs in his possession. Hughes was asked to explain why, if he did not want the woman's money, he had taken with him her purse; he answered that, as he was sliding into the driver's seat, his foot became entangled with the shoulder strap of the purse and that “when I went to run, I tripped. I bent down. I picked the purse up and ran and threw the purse down.”

Hughes recounted that, after he was arrested, he asked a police officer to tell the woman he was sorry. As Hughes put it at trial, “I was manning up to entering her auto without her consent and scaring her.” Hughes further recounted that he underwent testing at a hospital before being booked into jail at about 5:00 that same morning. And at trial, Hughes testified that his booking photograph depicted bruises on his head, which photograph was presented to the jury.

On appeal, Hughes claims that the state's case contained weaknesses and was contradicted by his testimony, mandating a reversal of his convictions.

But any evidentiary weaknesses, conflicts, or inconsistencies were for the jury to resolve. We do not speculate which evidence the jury chose to believe or disbelieve. Where as here, there was sufficient evidence, even though contradicted,to support each fact necessary to make out the state's case, we must uphold the jury's verdict.2

More specifically, Hughes has demonstrated no basis for disturbing the jury's findings that he was guilty as charged of: (i) hijacking a motor vehicle,3 by obtaining a motor vehicle from another person by use of force and intimidation; (ii) armed robbery,4 by taking a purse and a car from another person by use of an offensive weapon (a rock in a sock); (iii) criminal attempt to commit kidnapping,5 by knowingly and intentionally performing an act which constituted a substantial step toward the commission of said crime, by entering an occupied motor vehicle and commanding the driver to “Drive or die,” while wielding a rock in a sock; (iv) obstruction,6 by fleeing and thereby knowingly and willfully hindering police officers in the lawful discharge of their official duties; and (v) violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act,7 by possessing marijuana.

2. Hughes contends that the trial court erred when it declined to charge the jury on the law of accident, which he maintains constituted his sole defense and was authorized by his testimony about that night's events. “To authorize a jury instruction on a subject, there need only be produced at trial slight evidence supporting the theory of the charge. Whether the evidence presented is sufficient to authorize the giving of a charge is a question of law.” 8

Pursuant to OCGA § 16–2–2, [a] person shall not be found guilty of any crime committed by misfortune or accident where it satisfactorily appears there was no criminal scheme or undertaking, intention, or criminal negligence.” As the Supreme Court of Georgia has explained,

[A]ccident” is an affirmative defense whereby it must be established a defendant acted without criminal intent, was not engaged in a criminal scheme, and was not criminally negligent, i.e., did not act in a manner showing an utter disregard for the safety of others who might reasonably be expected to be injured thereby.9

Contrary to Hughes's claim, his testimony did not authorize a charge on accident. According to Hughes's version of relevant events, Hughes determined to use a passing BMW as his getaway vehicle from his drug deal gone bad. He thus admittedly entered a stranger's car without the driver's consent, frightened her, knowingly placed her life in danger of his pursuing attackers; threatened her that she would be harmed if she did not comply with his demands; and repeatedly ordered her to drive him away, irrespective of her pleas and protest. Hughes's words and acts induced the driver to abandon possession of her vehicle and her purse and to flee on foot because of fear for her personal safety. Hughes testified that he then slid into the driver's seat; but upon realizing that police had arrived, he fled pursuing officers because he knew he had drugs on his person; and as he fled police, he carried with him the driver's purse. Nothing in Hughes's testimony entitled him to a charge on the law of accident as contemplated by OCGA § 16–2–2,10 and the trial court committed no error when it declined to give such a charge. 11

3. Hughes contends that the trial court erred in rejecting his request to continue the hearing on his motion for new trial.

The record shows that, after Hughes's post-conviction attorney filed a motion for new trial raising claims that trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance, Hughes wrote a letter to the trial judge expressing dissatisfaction with his post-conviction attorney's performance and...

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