Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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In this case, appellant Austin Levi Payne appealed his convictions for felony murder and other crimes related to the death of one-year-old Journey Cowart. The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support Payne's convictions. The court reasoned that since Payne and the victim's mother, Brandy Boyd, were the only caretakers of the child during the time the fatal injuries were inflicted, the jury could reasonably conclude that either Payne, Boyd, or both were responsible for the injuries. The court also refuted Payne's arguments regarding the exclusion of evidence about Boyd's drug use and the failure to give a requested jury charge on grave suspicion. Finally, the court dismissed Payne's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, concluding that Payne failed to show that his trial counsel performed deficiently. View "PAYNE v. STATE" on Justia Law

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In this case, the appellant, Shomari Tahir Holmes, appealed his convictions for felony murder and other crimes related to the death of his 20-month-old son and for cruelty to children in the first degree against his son's three-year-old half-sister. The appellant was found guilty but mentally ill by a jury. On appeal, the appellant claimed that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting an audio recording of an interview conducted by a psychiatrist and expert witness for the State, and that the court erred by failing to instruct the jury on a verdict of “guilty but with intellectual disability.”The Supreme Court of Georgia rejected both of appellant’s claims and affirmed the convictions. The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the audio recording of the interview. The court reasoned that the appellant put his mental condition at issue, and the recording only addressed the purpose of the interview and did not constitute an opinion or inference about appellant’s mental state at the time of the crime.Furthermore, the court held that the trial court did not err in failing to instruct the jury on a verdict of “guilty but with intellectual disability.” The court explained that the appellant's counsel initially requested the instruction but later withdrew the request at the charge conference. Under Georgia law, when a defendant requests a specific jury instruction at the outset of trial but later withdraws the request during the charge conference, the defendant has affirmatively waived any right to the charge. Therefore, the appellant's claim concerning the charge failed. View "HOLMES v. STATE" on Justia Law

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In this case, Cynthia Jones was convicted of malice murder and related crimes in connection to the shooting death of her husband, Kenneth Jones. The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed her conviction. Cynthia appealed her conviction, arguing that the trial court erred by refusing to give a jury instruction on self-defense. The court assumed, without deciding, that there was slight evidence of self-defense and that the trial court may have erred in declining to instruct the jury on self-defense. However, the court held that even if there was such an error, it was harmless. The court explained that a nonconstitutional instructional error is harmless if it is highly probable that the jury would have reached the same verdict even if the trial court had given the instruction. After examining the evidence presented at trial, the court concluded that it was highly probable that the jury would have reached the same verdict even if the trial court had given the self-defense instruction. The court found the evidence supporting Cynthia's claim of self-defense was weak, as there was no evidence that Kenneth wielded a weapon on the night of the shooting or that Cynthia believed it was necessary to use deadly force to prevent death or great bodily harm to herself. Therefore, Cynthia failed to show that the trial court's assumed error in declining to provide a self-defense instruction contributed to the jury's verdict. View "JONES v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review centered on whether a grandmother’s action for visitation rights to her biological granddaughter (the minor child of her deceased daughter) under OCGA § 19-7-3 was precluded by the adoption of the child by her stepmother, and whether certain subsections of the grandparent visitation statute were unconstitutional, among other issues. The Supreme Court concluded that: (1) the grandmother was authorized to pursue an action for visitation rights to her granddaughter despite the adoption; and (2) with respect to the constitutional challenges, the Court needed only to consider the constitutionality of one of the three subsections at issue—which it held to be constitutional. Accordingly, the trial court's rulings were affirmed. View "Barhhill, et al. v. Alford" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) was the temporary custodian of Appellants John and Brittani Chandler’s three children. The Chandlers sought a determination they had constitutional and statutory rights to object on religious grounds to DFCS’s immunization of their children. Because the juvenile court applied the wrong standard in finding that the Chandlers’ religious objection was insincere, the Georgia Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s order and remanded this case for application of the correct standard. View "In the Interest of C.C. et al., children" on Justia Law

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Erin McAlister appealed trial court orders awarding Wendi Clifton, McAlister’s former domestic partner, visitation rights to McAlister’s adopted daughter, Catherine, pursuant to Georgia's equitable caregiver statute. McAlister contended the trial court erred in declaring the statute “constitutional, both facially and as applied to [Clifton],” as well as finding that Clifton had standing to seek visitation rights as Catherine’s equitable caregiver. McAlister also contended the trial court erred in denying her counterclaim for breach of a settlement agreement that the parties signed when they separated. Because Catherine turned 18 years old prior to the docketing of this appeal, McAlister's challenge to the award of visitation rights was moot. Those portions of the trial court's orders addressing the constitutionality of the equitable caregiver statute and the award of visitation, were vacated, and the trial court directed to dismiss Clifton's claim for visitation. However, because the record supported the trial court’s finding that McAlister failed to carry her burden of proving any damages from Clifton’s alleged breach of the settlement agreement, the court did not err in denying McAlister’s counterclaim. Consequently, the Supreme Court affirmed that portion of the court’s judgment. View "McAlister v. Clifton" on Justia Law

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Kristine and Jeffrey McInerney were married in 2003, and had two minor children. Kristine, who resided in Indiana with the two children, filed a complaint for divorce on May 1, 2020, in Bryan County, Georgia. At the time of the filing, the marital residence was in Bryan County, and Kristine believed Jeffrey resided there. However, Jeffrey moved to Chatham County shortly before Kristine filed for divorce. On July 2, 2020, Jeffrey sold the marital residence in Bryan County, and the sale proceeds were placed in a trust account as agreed to by the parties. In his answer and counterclaim, Jeffrey consented to venue and jurisdiction, and admitted he was a Georgia resident who resided in Bryan County within six months of the filing of the complaint for divorce. Approximately two months after she initiated the divorce action in Georgia, Kristine initiated a child custody action in Indiana. The parties agreed that Indiana had exclusive jurisdiction over the child custody action and all child custody and visitation issues. The parties later participated in mediation in Georgia in an attempt to resolve all issues relating to their divorce and the custody of their children, but were unable to come to an agreement. Jeffrey then filed a motion to dismiss the divorce case in Bryan County under the doctrine of forum non conveniens pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1 (a). This appeal presented the question of whether a superior court could transfer or dismiss a divorce case under the doctrine of forum non conveniens pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1(a) without offending Article VI, Section II, Paragraph I of the Georgia Constitution. The Georgia Supreme Court held that with respect to the question of transfer of venue, OCGA 9-10-31.1(a) was consistent with the authority vested in the General Assembly by the Georgia Constitution to enact statutes that direct the superior courts on how to exercise their power to change venue. As to the question of dismissal, OCGA § 9-10-31.1(a) was an exercise of the General Assembly’s plenary legislative power, not a matter of venue subject to the constitutional venue provisions. "The venue provisions do not limit the General Assembly’s authority to provide for the dismissal of a divorce case based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens." However, because the trial court incorrectly analyzed some of the factors set forth in OCGA § 9-10-31.1(a), the Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for reconsideration. View "McInerney v. McInerney" on Justia Law

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Erin McAlister appealed trial court orders awarding Wendi Clifton, McAlister’s former domestic partner, visitation rights to McAlister’s adopted daughter, Catherine, pursuant to the equitable caregiver statute, OCGA 19-7-3.1.1 McAlister contended the trial court erred in declaring the statute “constitutional, both facially and as applied to [Clifton],” as well as finding that Clifton had standing to seek visitation rights as Catherine’s equitable caregiver. The Georgia Supreme Court found that Catherine having turned 18 years old prior to the docketing of this appeal, and the parties agreed that this fact rendered moot McAlister’s challenge to the award of visitation rights. The Court therefore concluded this case was moot, and therefore vacated the trial court’s orders and remanded the case to the trial court with direction that the case be dismissed. View "McAlister v. Clifton" on Justia Law

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Joshua Brumbelow petitioned the Superior Court of Habersham County to legitimate his biological son, E.M. The superior court denied the petition, concluding that, under In re Eason, 358 SE2d 459 (1987), Brumbelow had abandoned his opportunity interest to pursue a relationship with his son. Brumbelow appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, alleging that the trial court erred in finding that he had abandoned his opportunity interest. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the trial court. The Court of Appeals further remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether Brumbelow’s legitimation petition should be granted based on Brumbelow being a fit parent for E.M., instead of being evaluated under the best interests of the child standard. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the superior court’s decision that Brumbelow had abandoned his opportunity interest to pursue a relationship with his son; and (2) if not, whether the Court of Appeals properly concluded that Brumbelow’s legitimation petition should have been assessed on remand under the parental fitness standard rather than the best interests of the child standard. The Supreme Court determined that, because evidence supported the superior court’s finding that Brumbelow abandoned his opportunity interest, the superior court did not abuse its discretion in denying the legitimation petition. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals erred in its decision on that issue, and the Supreme Court reversed that portion of the Court of Appeals’ judgment. With respect to the second question, the Supreme Court concluded that the portion of the Court of Appeals’ opinion relating to the standard that had to be applied to assess a biological father’s right to custody of his child in a legitimation action should be viewed as dicta only. View "Mathenia v. Brumbelow" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address whether the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing as moot the appeal of a juvenile delinquency adjudication. M. F. was found delinquent for criminal attempt to enter an automobile, for which M. F. was placed on probation for 12 months. M.F. appealed, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support the juvenile court's adjudication of delinquency. When M.F.'s probationary sentence concluded, the Court of Appeals issued an order in which it declined to reach the merits of M. F.’s appeal, concluding that his case was moot because his probationary sentence had expired and because M. F. “has not shown, on this record, any adverse collateral consequences arising from the juvenile court’s adjudication of him as delinquent.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a juvenile who appeals his adjudication of delinquency was not required to show adverse collateral consequences in the record; such consequences would be be presumed. The Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred, and its order was reversed and the matter remanded for consideration on the merits. View "In the Interest of M.F." on Justia Law