Robles v. State

Decision Date26 November 2003
Docket NumberNo. S03A0582.,S03A0582.
Citation277 Ga. 415,589 S.E.2d 566
PartiesROBLES v. The STATE.
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Johnny F. Castaneda, Michael B. King Jonesboro, for appellant.

Robert E. Keller, Dist. Atty., Kathryn O. Pulliam, Asst. Dist Atty., Thurbert E. Baker, Atty. Gen., Jill M. Zubler, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee. HINES, Justice.

Karla Angelica Robles appeals her convictions for felony murder and cruelty to a child in connection with the death of her son, Jovanny Fernandez, asserting numerous errors below.1 For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

Construed to support the verdicts, the evidence showed that at 9:15 p.m., March 22, 2001, Robles dialed 911 to report that her two-year-old son, Jovanny Fernandez, had been burned in the bathtub. The 911 operator instructed her to put cool water on the burns, but Robles questioned this advice. About a minute and a half into the conversation, Robles admitted that the child was unconscious and was not breathing. Emergency personnel arrived on the scene at approximately 9:21 p.m. and found the front door to Robles's home partially open and Robles, the only adult in the home, speaking on the telephone in a normal voice. Jovanny's badly-burned body was at Robles' feet. The child was not breathing and had no pulse. Despite the body being scalded, it was cool to the touch. Jovanny had vomited. No intravenous line could be established because the child's veins had collapsed. Robles claimed that Jovanny had been scalded in the bathtub, and that she had put ointment on his burns. No ointment could be seen or smelled when the body was at the home, nor was there any sign of ointment on the body when it underwent an autopsy.

Jovanny had been scalded in hot water; hot water emerging from the bathtub spigot in Robles's home was 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The scalding was on the child's lower extremities and forearms. There were strict lines of demarcation across his lower torso and his forearms between the burned and non-burned areas, indicating that Jovanny had been in one position for at least several seconds and had not been "flailing" about at the time; he either had been in extremely hot water for several seconds, or water less hot for a longer period of time. The burned areas were a markedly different color from the non-burned areas, and would have been obvious immediately upon the child's leaving the water, as would the peeling of the burned skin. Fingernail scratches on Jovanny's back and head were apparently made contemporaneously with the burns. Jovanny died one to two hours after being burned from chemical changes to his body resulting from the scalding. Had he received proper, prompt medical attention, he would have survived.

Robles testified that the night of Jovanny's death: she turned on the bath water; while it was running, she placed a telephone call; ended the call to find Jovanny in the bathtub, moaning; he said he was "okay" and stood; he did not cry or scream; he drank milk, holding the cup in his hands; he asked to play with toys, then vomited; Jovanny then drank some Kool-Aid, again grasping the cup with his hands; she put ointment on his hands and legs, and he did not cry or scream; she telephoned a neighbor for assistance; she then telephoned a clinic, but got no answer; she then telephoned her aunt; she then telephoned 911.2 There was expert testimony that: the burns were not consistent with Jovanny falling into the bathtub; he could not have tolerated the temperature of 130 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for more than an instant; his immediate reaction would be to attempt to get out of the tub; he would not have been able to stand or to hold a cup with his burned hands; and ointment could not have been placed on the burns without the child screaming.

1. Robles challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, specifically arguing that the jury's verdicts are inconsistent in that she was found guilty of felony murder while in the commission of cruelty to a child by holding the child in scalding water, but found not guilty of cruelty to a child by holding Jovanny in scalding water.3 But as these are not mutually exclusive verdicts, the finding of one does not necessarily preclude the other. Compare Jackson v. State, 276 Ga. 408, 409-413(2), 577 S.E.2d 570 (2003). As to the inconsistent verdicts, in a case such as this, the not-guilty verdict "may be construed as an indication of leniency on the part of the jury even in the case of acquittal on the predicate felony and conviction on the compound felony." Robinson v. State, 257 Ga. 194, 195-196(3), 357 S.E.2d 74 (1987).4 Further, viewing the verdicts as inconsistent does not aid Robles: "since Georgia has rejected the inconsistent verdict rule, `a defendant cannot attack as inconsistent a jury verdict of guilty on one count and not guilty on a different count.' [Cit.]" Lawrence v. State, 274 Ga. 794(2), 560 S.E.2d 17 (2002). Even accepting that the verdicts are inconsistent, "[t]he only question is whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction for [the crimes of which Robles was convicted]." Kolokouris v. State, 271 Ga. 597, 598(2), 523 S.E.2d 311 (1999).

Robles also contends that the State presented only circumstantial evidence that did not exclude all reasonable hypotheses except her guilt. See OCGA § 24-4-6.

[Q]uestions as to the reasonableness of hypotheses are generally to be decided by the jury which heard the evidence and where the jury is authorized to find that the evidence, though circumstantial, was sufficient to exclude every reasonable hypothesis save that of guilt, that finding will not be disturbed unless the verdict of guilty is insupportable as a matter of law. [Cit.]

Robbins v. State, 269 Ga. 500, 501(1), 499 S.E.2d 323 (1998). There was ample evidence presented to authorize the jury to find Robles guilty of committing felony murder by holding the child in scalding water, and guilty of committing cruelty to a child by failing to provide medical attention, and to reject the evidence and hypotheses Robles presented in an attempt to refute the charges. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); Davis v. State, 275 Ga. 633, 634-635, 570 S.E.2d 305 (2002).

2. Prior to voir dire, the presiding judge requested that the jury pool stand and recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States; all prospective jurors complied. Robles contends that this indicates that all jurors were "pro-State" and that the pledge was particularly harmful to her as she is not a citizen of the United States. First, Robles does not cite any authority for the proposition that a willingness to recite the pledge of allegiance shows a bias for the State in a criminal prosecution. Rather, we find that a juror's willingness to recite the pledge of allegiance, with its reinforcement of the concepts of "liberty and justice for all," shows no bias, either for the State, or for one who is charged by the State with a crime, and, in fact, is more likely to remind a juror of his or her obligations in the pursuit of justice. The record discloses that no prospective juror was required to recite the pledge of allegiance, and that the jurors took the oaths set forth in OCGA §§ 15-12-132 and 15-12-139. There was no error.

3. During voir dire, the trial court refused to allow Robles, who is Hispanic, to ask prospective jurors certain questions concerning their experiences with, and attitudes toward, Hispanics. Robles was permitted to ask whether any prospective jurors had any bias against her because she was Hispanic; no juror responded that they had such bias. Robles was then permitted to ask whether any prospective jurors worked, or had worked, with Hispanic co-workers. She was also permitted to ask if any prospective jurors considered themselves Hispanic or had a Hispanic spouse. The trial court did not permit questions concerning whether Hispanics lived in the neighborhoods of prospective jurors, attended school or church with them, or whether any prospective juror had a Hispanic friend. She was also prohibited from asking why the prospective jurors recited the pledge of allegiance and where they were born. Robles argued to the trial court that these questions would show whether any prospective juror had any bias against her because of her ethnicity or citizenship status,5 and contends that prohibiting these questions violated her rights under the United States Constitution. 6

The single purpose for voir dire is the ascertainment of the impartiality of jurors, their ability to treat the cause on the merits with objectivity and freedom from bias and prior inclination. The control of the pursuit of such determination is within the sound legal discretion of the trial court, and only in the event of manifest abuse will it be upset upon review.

Speed v. State, 270 Ga. 688, 691(7), 512 S.E.2d 896 (1999). See also Sallie v. State, 276 Ga. 506, 510(3), 578 S.E.2d 444 (2003). Considering the voir dire questions which Robles asked and the answers she received, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the issue of bias had been sufficiently explored, and that further questions would be redundant. See Fults v. State, 274 Ga. 82, 85(4), 548 S.E.2d 315 (2001).

4. Robles contends that the trial court improperly struck for cause four prospective jurors.7 One juror was struck before Robles requested that voir dire be recorded, and there is nothing in the record to contradict the trial court's later statement that this prospective juror was struck because "her responses indicated that she could not be fair and impartial in deciding this case...." Thus, we will presume that the trial court acted properly. Gillespie v. Gillespie, 259 Ga. 838, 388 S.E.2d 688 (1990).

As to the other three prospective jurors, whether to strike a potential juror for cause is a matter for the trial court's sound discretion. Somchith v. State, 272 Ga. 261, 262(...

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  • Leslie v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • April 30, 2020
    ...of the trial court, and will only be upset on review in the event of manifest abuse of discretion. See Robles v. State , 277 Ga. 415, 418-419 (3), 589 S.E.2d 566 (2003). During voir dire, juror number 20 expressed concern about his ability to comprehend the proceedings, as English was his s......
  • Thornton v. State
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    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • March 21, 2016
    ...; Guajardo v. State, 290 Ga. 172(2), 718 S.E.2d 292 (2011) ; King v. Waters, 278 Ga. 122(1), 598 S.E.2d 476 (2004) ; Robles v. State, 277 Ga. 415(1), 589 S.E.2d 566 (2003). As such, we have refused to apply the inconsistent verdict rule not only in cases where a single defendant receives in......
  • Ramirez v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • September 19, 2005
    ...sound legal discretion of the trial court, and only in the event of manifest abuse will it be upset upon review. Robles v. State, 277 Ga. 415, 419(3), 589 S.E.2d 566 (2003). Under the circumstances, we are confident that defendant "had a fair and adequate opportunity during voir dire to exp......
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    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • November 21, 2016
    ...297 Ga. 801, 806 (2), 777 S.E.2d 683 (2015) ; DeVaughn v. State, 296 Ga. 475, 477 (2), 769 S.E.2d 70 (2015) ; Robles v. State, 277 Ga. 415, 419 (4), 589 S.E.2d 566 (2003). But citing our decision in Kim v. Walls, 275 Ga. 177, 563 S.E.2d 847 (2002), the Court of Appeals then said that a tria......
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1 books & journal articles
  • In Defense of Voir Dire
    • United States
    • State Bar of Georgia Georgia Bar Journal No. 17-1, August 2011
    • Invalid date
    ...totality of their responses that those prospective jurors could not meaningfully consider all three sentencing options); Robles v. State, 277 Ga. 415, 419-20, 589 S.E.2d 566, 571-72 (2003) (holding that a prospective juror should have been excluded where he stated he would not be able to de......

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