In re A. A., A21A1724

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtDillard, Presiding Judge.
Citation868 S.E.2d 812,362 Ga.App. 426
Parties In the INTEREST OF A. A., a Child.
Docket NumberA21A1724
Decision Date31 January 2022

362 Ga.App. 426
868 S.E.2d 812

In the INTEREST OF A. A., a Child.

A21A1724

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

January 31, 2022


868 S.E.2d 814

Kaylee Elizabeth Maxwell, for Appellant.

Nathaniel Le'Terreon Smith, Carrollton, for Appellee.

Dillard, Presiding Judge.

362 Ga.App. 426

A. A., a juvenile, was adjudicated delinquent on a count of reckless conduct, a misdemeanor.1 She now appeals from this adjudication, arguing that (1) the trial court erred in its interpretation of reckless conduct under OCGA § 16-5-60, (2) the trial court erred in permitting the State to admit text messages without sufficient authentication, and (3) the evidence is insufficient to sustain her adjudication of delinquency. For the reasons set forth infra , we affirm.

The record shows that on January 6, 2021, an investigator with the Coweta County Sheriff's Department responded to a residence following a juvenile complaint. A. A. lived at the residence with her legal guardian, who reported finding a cell phone containing a video depicting A. A. inserting a toothbrush into her vagina in the bathroom where the guardian's two biological children

868 S.E.2d 815

kept their toothbrushes. And just a week or so before this incident, the guardian took A. A. to receive a second treatment for gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted illness.

Thereafter, the investigator spoke with A. A. about the video, and she admitted to inserting at least one of the children's toothbrushes into her vagina, that she was the person on the video, and that she did so because she found the children "annoying." A petition for a finding of delinquency was issued in the aftermath of these admissions,

362 Ga.App. 427

and A. A. was adjudicated as such for reckless conduct. This appeal follows.

1. For starters, A. A. argues the trial court erred in its interpretation of the reckless-conduct statute, OCGA § 16-5-60. We disagree.

A. A. contends the statute cannot be read as "relating to the negligent or purposeful spread of any disease both because of the content of the statute as a whole and because of the logical implication of interpreting the statute in that way." In particular, A. A. notes that the relevant statute subsequently mentions only HIV and no other communicable diseases. She also discusses at length the General Assembly's enactments—and decisions not to enact—various rules or prohibitions in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as evidence that the legislature does not intend to criminalize the negligent spread of all communicable diseases. We are not persuaded by these arguments.

To begin with, we need not address whether A. A. correctly asserts that the trial court erred in its interpretation that OCGA § 16-5-60 (b) expresses an "intent" by the General Assembly to apply only to those "infectious diseases with serious public health implications that spread through contact with an infected person's blood, saliva, mucus or other bodily fluids." Indeed, whether the trial court answered that question correctly has no bearing on A. A.’s argument that OCGA § 16-5-60 (b) does not apply to any communicable disease.

Moreover, we likewise need not address A. A.’s argument that criminalizing the negligent spread of communicable diseases under OCGA § 16-5-60 (b) is overly broad in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the facts of this case do not concern that disease or the ways in which it is transmitted. To put it plainly, what the General Assembly has or has not done in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, or whatever the numerous legislators’ personal interpretations of OCGA § 16-5-60 (b) may be, is ultimately of no consequence. This Court's only concern is with the plain meaning of the statute, which is rightfully our sole focus in determining the General Assembly's "intent."2

868 S.E.2d 816
362 Ga.App. 428

To that end, in interpreting any statute, we necessarily begin our analysis with "familiar and binding canons of construction."3 And in considering the meaning of a statute, our charge is to "presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant."4 As a result, we must afford the statutory text its plain and ordinary meaning,5 consider the text contextually,6 read the text "in its most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker of the English language would,"7 and seek to "avoid a construction that makes some language mere surplusage."8 And when the language

362 Ga.App. 429

of a statute is plain and susceptible of only one natural and reasonable construction, "courts must construe the statute accordingly."9

Turning to the text at issue, OCGA § 16-5-60 (b) provides as follows:

A person who causes bodily harm to or endangers the bodily safety of another person by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his act or omission will cause harm or endanger the safety of the other person and the disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation is guilty of a misdemeanor.

So, while A. A. is correct that OCGA § 16-5-60 goes on to discuss HIV specifically in other subsections of the statute , it does so in terms of criminalizing instances in which a person who is knowingly infected with HIV does not disclose this information before engaging in sexual intercourse or sexual acts with another, sharing hypodermic needles or syringes, performing sexual acts for money, soliciting or submitting to sodomy for money, or donating blood or other bodily fluid.10 The statute further goes on to criminalize the knowing attempt to infect a peace officer or correctional officer with HIV or hepatitis.11 But none of this additional statutory language

868 S.E.2d 817

suggests the General Assembly did not intend for OCGA § 16-5-60 (b) to encompass other communicable diseases.

Notably, unlike OCGA § 16-5-60 (b), these latter provisions constitute felonies.12 And all OCGA § 16-5-60 (b) requires, by its plain terms, is proof that a person "consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his act would harm [another person] or endanger [the other person's] safety."13 Thus, the trial court did not

362 Ga.App. 430

err in concluding that OCGA § 16-5-60 (b) could apply to the potential transmission of gonorrhea which, as it happens, the General Assembly has elsewhere "declared to be contagious, infectious, communicable, and dangerous to the public health."14

2. Next, A. A. contends the trial court erred by admitting text messages that were unsupported by proper authentication. Again, we disagree.

At the bench trial, the State introduced screen shots of text messages between A. A. and another individual. And while those messages do not show the time or date on which they were sent and received, A. A. mentions within them that she is at "a foster home called angels house" and her guardian found out about "the toothbrush thing." Additionally, A. A.’s guardian testified that the text messages were found on a phone A. A. used, which was the same phone that stored the toothbrush video. And in the text messages, A. A. disclosed to the other individual that her guardian had "found out about the toothbrush thing but [A. A.] had washed them off and everything after."

A. A. objected to the admission of the text messages on the basis that they lacked authentication, but the trial court overruled this objection, finding the State sufficiently authenticated them. Nevertheless, A. A. argues on appeal that her guardian's testimony regarding the text messages was insufficient to authenticate them because she was not the recipient of those messages. In doing so, A. A. contrasts this case from those in which texts were authenticated by a participant in the text exchange,15 when a phone was confiscated from the

362 Ga.App. 431

person who sent the text messages,16 or when cell-phone records demonstrated

868 S.E.2d 818

the subscriber's identity.17

In considering A. A.’s argument, our analysis necessarily begins with OCGA § 24-9-901 (a), which provides that:

The requirement of authentication or identification as a condition precedent to admissibility shall be satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims.18

And OCGA § 24-9-901 (b) describes, but does not limit, examples of means by which authentication or identification may be accomplished, including "[t]estimony of a witness with knowledge that a matter is what it is claimed to be" and "[a]ppearance, contents, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics, taken in conjunction with circumstances."19 Indeed, there are "no special rules under...

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2 practice notes
  • Se. Ga. Health Sys., Inc. v. Berry, A21A1544
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 31 d1 Janeiro d1 2022
    ...with the trial court that SGHS did not show that it was entitled to mandamus relief.4 For 868 S.E.2d 824 these reasons, we affirm the 362 Ga.App. 426 trial court's decision granting Berry's motion to dismiss SGHS's mandamus petition.Judgment affirmed. Barnes, P. J., and Markle, J., concur.-......
  • Donovan v. State, A21A1407
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 31 d1 Janeiro d1 2022
    ...for new trial and to his sentencing, which the trial court may consider again when the post-conviction process starts anew and Donovan 868 S.E.2d 812 either has the benefit of counsel or validly waives his right to counsel.Judgment vacated and case remanded. Rickman, C. J., and Senior Appel......
2 cases
  • Se. Ga. Health Sys., Inc. v. Berry, A21A1544
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 31 d1 Janeiro d1 2022
    ...with the trial court that SGHS did not show that it was entitled to mandamus relief.4 For 868 S.E.2d 824 these reasons, we affirm the 362 Ga.App. 426 trial court's decision granting Berry's motion to dismiss SGHS's mandamus petition.Judgment affirmed. Barnes, P. J., and Markle, J., concur.-......
  • Donovan v. State, A21A1407
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 31 d1 Janeiro d1 2022
    ...for new trial and to his sentencing, which the trial court may consider again when the post-conviction process starts anew and Donovan 868 S.E.2d 812 either has the benefit of counsel or validly waives his right to counsel.Judgment vacated and case remanded. Rickman, C. J., and Senior Appel......

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