Mitchell v. State

Decision Date22 February 2023
Docket NumberA22A1521
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)



A jury convicted Adam Mitchell of trafficking, manufacture of methamphetamine, possession with the intent to distribute possession of methamphetamine, possession of altered ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, and conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.[1] The trial court denied his amended motion for new trial, and he now appeals, arguing that the trial court's denial was in error because (1) a witness provided false testimony, (2) certain counts on which Mitchell was sentenced were subject to merger, and (3) Mitchell received ineffective assistance of counsel. For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm in part and vacate in part, and remand for resentencing.

Construed in favor of the verdict,[2] the record shows that in 2008, the Lookout Mountain drug task force investigated people buying large amounts of medications containing pseudoephedrine that were then sold to manufacture methamphetamine. The drug task force questioned Brian Jumper, who was on parole at the time regarding his purchases of such medications. Jumper initially told police that he bought the pills because he had a cold, but when officers indicated that they did not believe his story, Jumper stated that he bought them for Mitchell who was using the pills to manufacture methamphetamine. At trial, Jumper testified that he had purchased pills for Mitchell on approximately five or six occasions, and Mitchell paid him with half a gram of methamphetamine each time. Jumper also testified that he saw Mitchell "cook" methamphetamine on one occasion.

Police arrested Jumper approximately a week after his interview. He entered a guilty plea and received a sentence of fifteen years with eight years to be served in confinement. Jumper's sentencing form stated that he was to "testify truthfully at [Mitchell's] trial[.]" At trial, however, when asked if he made "any deals to have to testify or anything that [he was] aware of[,]" Jumper answered that he had not.

The drug task force obtained a warrant to search Mitchell's property and discovered several items often used in the clandestine manufacturing of methamphetamine. Officers also discovered coffee filters, which tested positive for methamphetamine, and a coffee grinder whose lid tested positive for ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. The arresting officer testified at trial that Mitchell informed the officer that he had "cooked" and used methamphetamine, and that Mitchell had stated that he had secured medicine containing pseudoephedrine from Jumper and others by providing them cash or methamphetamine in exchange for the pills. The officer also testified that Mitchell had stated that he learned the drug task force was "visiting" people, and that he subsequently decided to clean up the items he used to manufacture methamphetamine, which according to the officer, explained why some items they discovered appeared to have been hidden.

A jury found Mitchell guilty on all counts, and he filed a motion for new trial.[3]Following a hearing, the trial court denied Mitchell's motion for a new trial, and he filed this appeal.

When reviewing a claim that the State failed to correct false testimony, we accept the court's factual findings unless clearly erroneous, while we review the court's application of the law to the facts de novo.[4] Additionally, "[t]he question of whether offenses merge is a legal question that we review de novo."[5] Finally, "[w]hen reviewing a trial court's ruling on the effectiveness of trial counsel, we accept the trial court's factual findings and credibility determinations unless clearly erroneous, but we independently apply the legal principles to the facts."[6] With these guiding principles in mind, we turn now to Mitchell's claims of error.

1. Mitchell argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for new trial because the State's witness provided false testimony at trial. Specifically, Mitchell asserts that he was entitled to a new trial because Jumper denied having an agreement to testify at Mitchell's trial, the State knowingly failed to correct this false testimony, and the false statement was material to the trial's outcome.

In general, a Giglio[7] claim alleges that a prosecutor knowingly presented false testimony against the defendant. To establish a Giglio violation, it must be shown that: (1) the testimony given was false; (2) the prosecutor knew the testimony was false; and (3) the statement was material.[8]

Here, the State does not dispute that Jumper offered false testimony, i.e., falsely stating that he did not have an agreement with the State to testify at Mitchell's trial.

However, "[t]he burden is on the defendant to prove each of these elements[,]"[9] and reversal of the trial court is required "only if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different."[10]

When considering whether false testimony offered at trial was material, this Court has held that "the false evidence is material if there is any reasonable likelihood that the false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury."[11] Here, a search of Mitchell's property uncovered several items and substances associated with the clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine. Additionally, the arresting officer testified that Mitchell had admitted he both used and manufactured methamphetamine, that Mitchell had detailed how he secured the substances used to manufacture the drug, and that Mitchell secured pills from Jumper and others by paying for them in cash and methamphetamine, which was consistent with Jumper's testimony. Mitchell also, according to the arresting officer, stated that he heard that the drug task force had been visiting people, and that he needed to clean up some of the items used to manufacture methamphetamine, which explained why some items discovered during the search were hidden. Although Mitchell denied these statements, "it is the function of the jury, not the appellate court, to resolve conflicts in the testimony and determine the credibility of the witnesses."[12] Thus, there was substantial evidence supporting the jury's verdict.

Additionally, while Jumper's agreement to testify could have been used to question his credibility, Mitchell's trial counsel challenged Jumper's credibility at trial through other testimony. For example, Mitchell's trial counsel highlighted the fact that Jumper only told the police that he bought the pills for Mitchell after the officers stated that they did not believe his initial story. Moreover, trial counsel highlighted the fact that Jumper was at Mitchell's house before the drug task force's search, and counsel asked the arresting officer whether it was possible that Jumper may have planted some of the evidence found on Mitchell's property in hopes of working out "a decent plea[.]" Thus, although the fact that Jumper had an agreement with the State could have been used to challenge his credibility further, his credibility was questioned on other grounds during the trial.[13]

Therefore, given the evidence of guilt presented by the State, Jumper's false testimony was not material as there was no reasonable probability that, had the agreement been disclosed, the result of the proceeding would have been different.[14]

2. Mitchell argues, and the State concedes, that the trial court erred when it failed to merge Count 6 (conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine) and Count 2 (manufacturing methamphetamine). We agree.

In Georgia, "conspiracy clearly is merged into the greater crime where the evidence shows without dispute that the crime charged was actually committed[.]"[15]Here, Mitchell was convicted of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, but was also found guilty of the greater crime of manufacturing methamphetamine. However, "a verdict of guilt as to the completed crime will preclude a verdict of guilt for conspiring to commit that crime, since the conspiracy to commit an offense merges into the actually completed offense."[16] Therefore, Mitchell's sentence on the charge of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine is vacated, and we remand the case to the trial court for resentencing in accordance with this opinion.

3. Mitchell asserts that the trial court erred when it failed to merge Count 5 (possession of altered ephedrine-pseudoephedrine) into Count 2 (manufacture of methamphetamine).

It is unlawful in Georgia for any person to possess a product containing any amount of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine that has been altered from its original condition to be powdered, liquefied, or crushed,[17] and it is unlawful for any person to manufacture a controlled substance, including methamphetamine.[18]

Here, a search of Mitchell's property uncovered items associated with the manufacture of methamphetamine, including coffee filters that tested positive for methamphetamine, as well as a coffee grinder, whose lid contained a powder that tested positive for ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Mitchell was indicted for manufacturing methamphetamine and for the possession of altered ephedrine or pseudoephedrine based on the powder discovered in the coffee grinder lid. The jury could have found Mitchell guilty of possession of ephedrine-pseudoephedrine based on the powder found in the coffee grinder lid and also could have found him guilty of manufacturing methamphetamine based on the various items located on his property, as well as the methamphetamine found in the coffee filters.[19] "Because the evidence supported a conclusion that different conduct by [Mitchell]...

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