Stephens v. The State

Citation699 S.E.2d 558,305 Ga.App. 339
Decision Date08 July 2010
Docket NumberNo. A10A0223.,A10A0223.
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)



Chandler, Britt, Jay & Beck, Walter M. Britt, Buford, James R. Little, for appellant.

Daniel J. Porter, Dist. Atty., Jon W. Setzer, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee.

PHIPPS, Presiding Judge.

Bradley Stephens was indicted on three counts of aggravated child molestation, one count of rape, and one count of incest, for offenses involving his stepdaughter. A jury found him guilty of incest and not guilty of the remaining charges. On appeal, Stephens challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction, and the court's rulings on certain evidentiary matters, several requested jury charges, and his request to strike a juror for cause. None of these arguments presents any basis for reversal, so we affirm the conviction. Stephens also maintains that the trial court erred in amending his sentence to include special conditions of probation and parole. We find no merit to his argument regarding probation, but agree that the trial court erred in imposing restrictions that would be effective in the event of a subsequent parole; therefore, we vacate the sentence and remand the case for resentencing consistent with this opinion.

1. Stephens contends that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the incest conviction. We disagree.

“On appeal from a criminal conviction, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, with the defendant no longer enjoying a presumption of innocence. We neither weigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of witnesses, but determine only whether the evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to find the defendant guilty of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt.” 1

Viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict, the record shows that A.P.'s mother married Stephens in 1991, when A.P. was four years old. The couple remained married until 2006. A.P. testified that Stephens began having sexual intercourse with her in 1996, and he continued to do so through 2004. In 2004, when she was 16 years old, A.P. became pregnant. She knew that Stephens was her baby's father because she had not had sexual intercourse with anyone else. When she told Stephens she was pregnant, he gave her home pregnancy tests, told her she was going to get an abortion, signed a parental consent form, and took her to a medical facility where she underwent the procedure. A.P. testified that for years she had been unable to stop Stephens's abuse and had been afraid to report it, but that the abortion was the “final straw that broke the camel's back.” Afterward, she was able to keep Stephens from abusing her and, when she was nearly 18 years old, she reported the abuse.

OCGA § 16-6-22(a) provides, in relevant part, that a person commits the offense of incest when he engages in sexual intercourse with a person to whom he knows he is related either by blood or by marriage as follows: (1) father and daughter or stepdaughter. A.P testified that Stephens had sexual intercourse with her while he was married to her mother. Because the testimony of a single witness is generally sufficient to establish a fact, 2 the evidence was sufficient in this case to support the incest conviction.3

Stephens's argument that the incest conviction cannot stand because it is inconsistent with the acquittals on the other charges is without merit.

Georgia does not recognize an inconsistent verdict rule, which would permit a defendant to challenge the factual findings underlying a guilty verdict on one count as inconsistent with the findings underlying a not guilty verdict on a different count. A conviction on one count and acquittal on another related count may reflect a compromise or lenity by the jury rather than inconsistent factual conclusions, and Georgia courts generally will not look behind the jury's decision to convict on certain counts and acquit on other counts. 4

2. Stephens contends that the trial court erred in allowing evidence that A.P. had an abortion in 2004. Stephens argues that evidence of the abortion “injected too much emotion into the trial” and that its probative value was substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect.

[U]nless the potential for prejudice in the admission of evidence substantially outweighs its probative value, the Georgia rule favors the admission of any relevant evidence, no matter how slight its probative value. Evidence of doubtful relevancy or competency should be admitted and its weight left to the jurors. Where evidence is offered and objected to, if it is competent for any purpose, it is not erroneous to admit it.5

The standard of review for the trial court's ruling on a challenge to evidence on the ground that its probative value is outweighed by its tendency to unduly prejudice the jury is abuse of discretion.6

A.P. testified that she had become pregnant, that Stephens was the only person with whom she had had sexual intercourse, that he had taken her to get an abortion, and that she was not able to stop the abuse or to report it until after the abortion. At trial, Stephens denied that he had sexual relations with his stepdaughter, and defense counsel cross-examined A.P. extensively regarding her delay in reporting the abuse. Evidence that Stephens took his stepdaughter to obtain an abortion was relevant to the issues of whether he had engaged in sexual intercourse with her, and what prompted her to report the abuse when she did. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence, as the potential for its prejudice did not substantially outweigh its probative value.7

3. Stephens contends that the trial court erred in denying him access to A.P.'s records and school records. Stephens argues that the records were relevant to show “any alleged impact” of his alleged actions, “as well as to show [A.P.'s] mind set” regarding her mother's divorce from Stephens. He claims the school records were necessary to rebut testimony that A.P.'s grades dropped after the abortion.

Before trial, Stephens filed a motion for the trial court to obtain and conduct an in camera inspection of all records pertaining to A.P. Stephens asserted that the records might contain information bearing on the credibility of the state's witnesses. The court granted the motion. After inspecting the records and finding no exculpatory evidence therein, the court ruled that the records were not subject to disclosure pursuant to OCGA § 49-5-40 et seq.8

Stephens also filed a motion to obtain A.P.'s school records. Following its in camera inspection of those records, the trial court declined to release them to Stephens, stating that it had found no exculpatory evidence therein and that their disclosure was thus not necessary to resolve any issue in the case. Consequently, the court ruled, the records were not admissible pursuant to OCGA § 49-5-41.9

A defendant who is denied access to certain information after the court performs an in camera inspection has the burden on appeal of showing both the materiality and the favorable nature of the evidence sought. 10 Mere speculation that the items the appellant sought to review contained exculpatory information does not satisfy this burden.11 The trial court's discretionary ruling after an in camera inspection that all exculpatory material, if any, was produced establishes that as a fact absent a showing to the contrary.12 Inasmuch as Stephens has not made such a showing,13 we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's denial of access to A.P.'s and school records.14

4. Stephens contends the trial court erred in its charge to the jury. “When reviewing an allegedly erroneous jury charge, this Court applies a ‘plain legal error’ standard of review. A jury charge must be considered as a whole and its parts read in conjunction with one another.” 15

(a) Stephens asserts that the trial court erred in giving the state's requested charge on prior consistent statements, arguing that the instruction was not supported by the evidence.

The court gave the following jury instruction:

Should you find that any witness has made a statement prior to the trial of this case that is consistent with that witness's testimony from the witness stand and such prior consistent statement is material to the case and the witness's testimony, then you are authorized to consider the other statement as substantive evidence.

In Boyt v. State,16 we held that a nearly identical charge was overly complex and “impossible to understand.” 17 “When jurors hear words which they do not understand, they discount or ignore those words.” 18 And, as the Court noted in Boyt, this type of charge is flawed in that no instruction on this point is necessary.19 After all, [a] jury may consider all the words it hears as substantive evidence, unless the trial court tells it to disregard those words or unless the trial court at the moment the words are uttered cautions the jury that the testimony is admitted only for a limited purpose.” 20 Thus, the error was harmless. 21

(b) Stephens complains that the trial court refused to give one of his requested jury charges. It stated: The state of a witness's feelings toward the defendant and her relationship to him may always be proved for consideration of the jury.” Stephens contends this charge was supported by the evidence and should have been given to allow the jury to consider A.P.'s motives in accusing him. However, in its charge on witness credibility, the trial court instructed the jury in a way that substantially covered the principle set forth in the request.22 There was no error.

(c) Stephens argues that the court erred in not giving his requested charge concerning abortion. As written, the requested charge stated:

The court has admitted evidence that [the victim] had a legal abortion on [date]. The Defendant is on

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