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Georgia Supreme Court Reverses Armed Robbery Conviction, Defendant Lacked Dominion

by Dale Chappell

Unless the State can prove a defendant had “complete dominion” over the property he intended to steal from a person, he cannot be guilty of armed robbery, the Georgia Supreme Court held on October 20, 2017.

Just before Christmas 2008, Brodrick Williams and some friends approached a man on the street and told him to hand over the gold chain around his neck. The man refused and a struggle ensued, resulting in the shooting death of the victim. The chain was left behind when Williams fled.

A jury later found Williams guilty of armed robbery, murder, and possession of a firearm. Williams appealed and argued, among other things, that the evidence was insufficient to support the armed robbery conviction.

The Georgia Supreme Court agreed and overturned that conviction. Under Georgia law, an individual commits armed robbery when he or she takes property from the person or the immediate presence of another by use of an offensive weapon, the Court explained. In order to prove the “taking” element, the prosecution must prove both the “slightest change of location” of the property and “complete dominion” over the property were transferred, even temporarily, from the victim to the defendant.

The Court determined that Williams never had “complete dominion” over the chain. It was found with the victim’s clothing at the hospital, and there is no evidence in the trial record that Williams ever exercised complete dominion over the chain at any time.

The Supreme Court distinguished Williams’ case from its other decisions in which the would-be robber left empty-handed yet still committed armed robbery. In a case where the robber directed a cashier to open a cash drawer, move it, and the victim complied, the State proved “complete dominion” over the cash, the Court had previously held.

In contrast to the foregoing set of facts, the victim in Williams’ case refused to comply when he was ordered to hand over his chain. There was also no evidence in the trial record that Williams ever successfully grabbed the chain or moved it himself during the attempted robbery. According to the Supreme Court, those facts distinguish Williams’ case from ones where a robber snatches a person’s chain and subsequently drop it a short distance away, demonstrating “complete dominion” over the chain even for a brief period of time.

In light of the relevant facts and applicable law, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support Williams’ armed robbery conviction. Accordingly, the Court unanimously reversed that conviction. See: Williams v. State, 807 S.E.2d 418 (Ga. 2017). 

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