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Georgia Supreme Court Reverses Mutually Exclusive Guilty Verdicts

by Christopher Zoukis

The Georgia Supreme Court answered an unusual, yet significant, question on December 11, 2017. Can a conviction that requires proof that a rental car was stolen outside of the state coexist with a conviction that requires proof that the same car was stolen in the state? Both a trial court and an appellate court said yes. The Georgia Supreme Court, applying the old saw known as common sense, disagreed and reversed.

Randall Lee Jones rented a car in Tennessee. The rental agreement provided for 800 miles over a four-day period. However, Jones proceeded to drive to California and back, putting 5,109 miles on the vehicle and then failed to return it on time.

The rental agency reported the car stolen, and Jones was pulled over while driving through Georgia. He was arrested and charged with theft by conversion (OCGA § 16-8-4(a)) and theft by bringing stolen property into Georgia (OCGA § 16-8-9). The jury found Jones guilty on both counts, and the trial court sentenced him to concurrent five-year terms to serve two and $1,472 in restitution.

Jones appealed, arguing that the two convictions were mutually exclusive. The appellate court upheld the convictions, but the Georgia Supreme Court reversed, agreeing with Jones that the convictions were indeed mutually exclusive.

The Supreme Court explained that verdicts are mutually exclusive “where it is legally and logically impossible to convict the accused of both counts.” In order to convict Jones of theft by bringing stolen property into Georgia, the State had to prove that the car was stolen in another state. In order to convict Jones of theft by conversion, the State had to prove that the car was stolen in Georgia. These two requirements cannot coexist.

“To find Jones guilty of theft by bringing the stolen Mazda into Georgia, the jury must have determined that he knew or should have known the Mazda was stolen [by him] in another state,” observed the Court. “If Jones stole or converted the Mazda in another state, he could not at the same time have stolen or converted it in Georgia.”

“Conversely,” the Court continued, “if Jones stole or converted the Mazda in Georgia, he could not have brought stolen property into the state under OCGA § 16-8-9, because that Code section applies to property stolen in another state. In finding Jones guilty on both counts, the jury ‘necessarily reached two positive findings of fact that cannot logically mutually exist.’”

Since the two guilty verdicts are mutually exclusive, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that “reversal of both verdicts is required.”

See: Jones v. State, 2017 Ga. LEXIS 973 (2017). 

 

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