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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
LANDERS v. SMITH, Warden.
25701.
Habeas corpus. Tattnall Superior Court. Before Judge Caswell.
ALMAND, Chief Justice.
2. The court below correctly interpreted petitioner's contention as a question of law, rather than as a question of fact.
3. The practice of including prior convictions in the indictment and reading them to the jury before the determination of the issue of guilt or innocence in the crime charged, pursuant to Code Ann. 27-2511 (Ga. L. 1953, Nov. Sess., pp. 289, 290), violated neither petitioner's Federal nor his State Constitutional rights.
On March 11, 1966, petitioner was found guilty of violating the State narcotics law and was sentenced to ten years in prison.
On August 4, 1969, petitioner filed his petition for the writ of habeas corpus in Tattnall Superior Court. On September 25, 1969, a hearing was held on this petition and the writ was denied. Petitioner was remanded to the custody of the warden. From this decision, petitioner brings his appeal.
1. In petitioner's first enumeration of error, he alleges that the judge in the habeas corpus proceeding materially misstated his principal contention. In his brief, the petitioner states that his main contention in the habeas corpus proceeding was not that Georgia's second offender law is unconstitutional, but that the practice of reading a man's criminal record to the jury before the verdict in the principal case is rendered violates his rights under the Federal and State Constitutions. On page 6 of the transcript of the habeas corpus hearing, the following appears: "The Court: What you're saying is that the evidence of the of the previous conviction should not have been listed on your indictment. Is that one thing? A. Yes, sir, or presented to the jury. The Court: And another is that even if it was listed, it shouldn't have been read to the jury, is that right? A. Yes, sir, and they had the arresting officers in each case up there to identify me as the same person." On page 10 of the record, in the order of the judge denying the petition for habeas corpus, can be found the following: "He [petitioner] stated that he was not attacking the Georgia previous offender law, that the only thing he was attacking was the way that it was put to the jury at the beginning of his trial."
From these examinations of the record, it is obvious that petitioner's first enumeration of error is not meritorious.
2. Petitioner contends that the trial judge erroneously treated the question of whether or not the practices complained of had a prejudicial effect on the jury as a question of law, when it should have been treated as a question of fact. This contention is also without merit.
At no time in the hearing below did petitioner offer any evidence of any prejudice in his particular jury which resulted from the practice complained of. His whole attack is based on the idea that the practices complained of in Division 3 of his opinion inevitably result in a biased and prejudiced jury. This is obviously a question of law and not a question of fact. Petitioner's second enumeration of error is not meritorious.
3. Petitioner's third enumeration of error contends the pivotal issue in this case. This enumeration attacks practices which have evolved in Georgia courts in the administration of the provisions of Code Ann. 27-2511 (Ga. L. 1953, Nov. Sess., pp. 289, 290). This Code section provides, in short, that anyone who has a third conviction of a crime punishable by confinement and labor in the penitentiary, and who is subsequently convicted for another such crime, must receive the maximum sentence for the second such conviction. There are several full bench decisions of this court which hold that in order to sentence a prisoner according to this Code section, the prior convictions relied on must be placed in the indictment and read to the jury before the principal issue of guilt or innocence is determined. It is this practice which the petitioner is attacking as a violation of his rights under stated provisions of the Federal and State Constitutions.
In Tribble v. State, 168 Ga. 699 (148 SE 593), the court held that the fact of the prior convictions must be charged in the indictment where a second conviction would affect the grade of the offense or require the imposition of a different punishment. In Kryder v. State, 212 Ga. 272 (91 SE2d 612), a full bench decision, it was held that the procedures complained of by the petitioner in this case related only to the procedure in the trial of a criminal case, and did not affect any vested principle or constitutional right of the defendant.
Thus it can be seen that full bench decisions of this court require that prior convictions be alleged in the indictment and read to the jury. Also, such decisions have held that this procedure does not violate any constitutional rights of the defendant.
But petitioner also avers that the procedure complained of violates rights guaranteed to him by the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Thus it can be seen that both State and Federal decisions resolve the petitioner's contentions against him. The trial judge correctly denied his petition for the writ of habeas corpus and ordered that he be remanded in the custody of the warden.
FELTON, Justice, dissenting. The appellant, in my opinion, has alleged an error which attacks the validity of the trial on the ground that his State and Federal Constitutional rights were violated. In Division 3, the majority passes on both questions, so it is unnecessary for me to belabor the question whenever a State constitutional question is raised.
1. I dissent from the judgment insofar as the majority holds that the trial involved no State constitutional right.
In a recent case the author of the opinion stated the proposition that the introduction of previous convictions denies a defendant a fair and impartial trial and due process of law, and the court thought, in the case being considered, that certain full bench decisions of this court precluded a ruling contrary to these decisions. Croker v. Smith, 225 Ga. 529 (169 SE2d 787). It seems to me that these decisions would not be a bar to a ruling in this case that the defendant's State constitutional due process rights have been violated for the reason that here there is no attack on a legislative Act or on the inclusion of the previous offenses in the indictment or evidence. The attack here is upon the making known of such other offenses to the jury prior to their decision on the question of guilt on the single present charge. This is quite different from an attack on a statute or even on the admission of such other crimes in evidence. I think that the attack here made is meritorious and that the judgment should be reversed.
Arthur K. Bolton, Attorney General, Harold N. Hill, Jr., Executive Assistant Attorney General, Marion O. Gordon, Assistant Attorney General, Charles B. Merrill, Jr., for appellee.
Clifford A. Landers, pro se.
SUBMITTED MARCH 9, 1970 -- DECIDED APRIL 9, 1970
Friday May 22 16:53 EDT


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