Stinson v. State

Decision Date25 October 2019
Docket NumberA19A1598
Citation352 Ga.App. 528,835 S.E.2d 342
Parties STINSON v. The STATE.
CourtGeorgia Court of Appeals

Jessica Ruth Towne, Lawrenceville, for Appellant.

Daniel J. Porter, Lawrenceville, Charissa Ann Henrich, for Appellee.

Reese, Judge.

A jury found Vernon Stinson guilty of two counts of statutory rape and two counts of child molestation.1 Stinson appeals from the denial of his motion for new trial, contending, inter alia, that the trial court "mishandled" his motion for acquittal and discharge, that the court improperly allowed him to represent himself prior to trial, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict,2 the evidence shows the following facts. In February 2014, the 13-year-old victim lived in Gwinnett County with her father, her brother, the children's nanny and her husband, and Stinson, who was a close friend of the victim's father. According to the victim, she had known Stinson "[s]ince [she] was little[,]" and Stinson "was like an uncle to [her]." In February 2014, however, Stinson started sexually abusing the victim.

The first time it happened, Stinson and the victim were in the living room when he asked her to give him a "lap dance[.]" Although the victim did not know what a "lap dance" was, she sat on his lap and "gyrated" her hips. Stinson pushed the victim back onto the couch, removed her underwear, performed oral sex on her, and then had sexual intercourse with her. Stinson ignored the victim when she told him to stop and that he was hurting her.

The next morning, Stinson went into the victim's bedroom and had oral sex and sexual intercourse with her on her bed. Stinson did the same thing to the victim on her bed the following morning, as well as the next evening. According to the victim, after Stinson had sex with her, he said that he loved her.

The next day, the victim told her father that Stinson had been having sexual intercourse with her and performing oral sex on her during the past week. The victim told her father that Stinson had her go into her father's bedroom and get her father's condoms for him (Stinson) to use during sex, although the victim told her father that Stinson did not use a condom during one of the sexual assaults. When her father confronted Stinson about the victim's allegations, Stinson said that the victim was lying. The victim's father started to physically attack Stinson, but then released him, and Stinson ran to his car and drove away. A couple of days after he left the house, however, Stinson called the victim's father and said that he was sorry.

Law enforcement officers were contacted the day after Stinson left the house, and the victim was taken to a sexual assault center, where a sexual assault examination was conducted. A police officer subsequently interviewed the victim, and a recording of the interview was played for the jury at trial.

During their investigation, police officers seized the victim's bed sheets from her home. On February 28, 2014, an officer obtained an arrest warrant for Stinson. Stinson was placed under arrest about two weeks later and was appointed counsel shortly thereafter. The State charged him with two counts of rape, four counts of aggravated child molestation, two counts of child molestation, and two counts of statutory rape. On July 1, 2014, while Stinson was incarcerated on the charges, an officer obtained Stinson's DNA through a buccal swab, pursuant to a search warrant. At trial, a forensic biologist employed by the Georgia state crime lab testified that DNA extracted from semen found on the victim's bed sheets matched Stinson's DNA.

Following a four-day trial, the jury found Stinson guilty of two counts of statutory rape and two counts of child molestation.3 Stinson filed a motion for new trial and three amended new trial motions. The trial court denied the motions for new trial, and this appeal followed.

"On appeal from a criminal conviction, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict[,] and an appellant no longer enjoys the presumption of innocence."4 Although the appellant generally carries the burden of showing any alleged errors affirmatively by the record, "when [an appellant] challenges an alleged waiver [of his right to counsel] on appeal, it is the State's burden to prove that the [appellant] received sufficient information and guidance from the trial court upon which to knowingly and intelligently relinquish [that] right. This evidence must overcome the presumption against waiver."5 This Court reviews the trial court's ruling as to whether the appellant's waiver of the right to counsel was valid for an abuse of discretion.6 With these guiding principles in mind, we turn now to Stinson's specific claims of error.

1. Stinson contends that the trial court improperly allowed him to represent himself prior to trial, arguing that he never waived his right to counsel and that he was not qualified to represent himself. According to his appellate brief, Stinson never wanted to represent himself; instead, "he was simply dissatisfied with his lawyer and wanted to game the system." Stinson also argues that the trial court improperly appointed "standby" counsel to assist him while he was acting pro se. Stinson, through his appellate counsel, contends that, "[b]y capitulating to [Stinson's] nonsense and then imposing a standby lawyer on him, the court denied [Stinson] both the right to counsel and the right to self-representation."

(a) It is axiomatic that, under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a defendant facing imprisonment has the right to counsel during every critical stage of the criminal prosecution.7 It is equally true that a criminal defendant

has an unequivocal right under both the state and federal constitutions to represent himself and waive his right to counsel.[8 However, a defendant's] unequivocal assertion of the right to represent [himself], when made prior to trial, ... requires that the trial court hold a hearing to ensure that the right to counsel is knowingly and voluntarily waived and that the defendant understands the perils of self-representation.9

During such a hearing (referred to herein as a "Faretta "10 hearing), the trial court must question the defendant to the extent necessary to establish on the record that the defendant has made a valid waiver of counsel and an assertion of his right to self-representation.11

To be valid, such waiver [of the right to counsel] must be made with an apprehension of the nature of the charges, the statutory offenses included within them, the range of allowable punishments thereunder, possible defenses to the charges and circumstances in mitigation thereof, and all other facts essential to a broad understanding of the matter. Each case must be evaluated on its own unique facts and circumstances, and there is no magic language that the trial court must use to determine whether a waiver of counsel is valid. The [S]tate has the burden of proving that the defendant received sufficient information and guidance from the trial court to knowingly and intelligently waive the right to counsel. The record should reflect a finding by the trial court that the defendant has elected to proceed pro se and should show that this choice was made after the defendant was made aware of his right to counsel and the dangers of proceeding without counsel.12

In this case, the record shows that, during Stinson's arraignment on July 11, 2014, the court appointed attorney Dale Wren to represent Stinson. Wren filed discovery requests and consolidated motions on Stinson's behalf, and Stinson filed a pro se statutory speedy trial demand on August 21, 2014. Wren did not file a speedy trial demand, and he refused Stinson's request that he adopt the pro se demand. The trial court dismissed the pro se speedy trial demand the next day, ruling that, because Stinson was represented by counsel, he could not simultaneously represent himself by filing a pro se speedy trial demand.13

During a hearing on September 17, 2014, Stinson informed the trial court that Wren had refused to file a motion "to fight against [Stinson's] rubber-stamped indictment[,]" as well as other motions that Stinson wanted Wren to file, including a plea in abatement. Wren explained to the court that he had discussed the proposed motions with Stinson but did not believe the motions were "warranted [in] this case." The trial court asked Stinson if he wanted Wren to continue representing him, wanted someone else to represent him, or wanted to represent himself, and Stinson responded, "I'll go pro se for now so I can get the motions that I wanted filed. I'll go pro se for this point in time." The trial court allowed Wren to withdraw as counsel, and conducted a Faretta hearing, after which it found that Stinson had not waived his right to counsel. Although the trial court appointed attorney Wesley Person to serve as Stinson's new counsel, it ruled that Stinson would be allowed to file, pro se, any motion he wanted to file during the next five days. The court later extended the time period for Stinson to file pro se motions for an additional 30 days.

About a month later, in an October 14, 2014 letter to the trial court, Stinson asked the court to cause Person to "[c]ease and desist" representing him. And, in an October 28, 2014 letter to the court, Stinson claimed that Person's representation was "ineffective" because Person had refused to file certain motions that, inter alia, challenged the indictment and asserted constitutional violations.

Then, during a November 19, 2014 motion hearing, Stinson again informed the court that he (Stinson) "need[ed] to go pro se." As a result, the court conducted another Faretta hearing, during which Stinson, a high school graduate with some college education, demonstrated that he knew the elements and the maximum penalties of the offenses for which he had...

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3 cases
  • Mulkey v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • January 17, 2023
    ... ... State , 318 ... Ga.App. 849, 854 (4) (a) (734 S.E.2d 823) (2012) (explaining ... that the effect of bolstering should be viewed in context of ... all the evidence to determine if it had an effect on the ... outcome on the trial); see also Stinson v. State , ... 352 Ga.App. 528, 542 (4) (835 S.E.2d 342) (2019) ... ("[S]ince an appellant claiming ineffective assistance ... of counsel must show both deficient performance and actual ... prejudice stemming from that deficiency, an insufficient ... showing on either ... ...
  • Mulkey v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • January 17, 2023
    ...viewed in context of all the evidence to determine if it had an effect of the outcome on the trial); see also Stinson v. State , 352 Ga. App. 528, 542 (4), 835 S.E.2d 342 (2019) ("[S]ince an appellant claiming ineffective assistance of counsel must show both deficient performance and actual......
  • Holt v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • October 25, 2019
    ...only evidence linking defendant to drugs, other than accomplice testimony, was his proximity to where drugs were found, the evidence was 835 S.E.2d 342 not overwhelming, and, therefore, there was a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different but for trial ......

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