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Hall County DUI: Massey v. State, All DUIs are similar?

Hall County DUI, Gainesville, Georgia: MASSEY v.THE STATE, A11A0674, Court of Appeals of Georgia, May 5, 2011.

A Hall County jury found David Anthony Massey guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol or DUI less safe, reckless driving, fleeing and attempting to elude, speeding, three counts of passing in a no-passing zone, and two counts of disobeying a traffic control device. Massey appealed challenging the introduction of similar transaction evidence at trial because the State only stated intention for the similar transactions was bent of mind and course of conduct and not identity which was Massey’s defense, and the failure of the State to seek identity as a basis made the similar transaction evidence mere bad character evidence and more prejudicial than it is probative.

Around 9:30 p.m. on June 30, 2008, Officer Michael Roach of the Hall County Sheriff’s Department observed a Pontiac sports car run a red light, accelerate rapidly through the intersection, and pass several cars in a no-passing zone. Roach activated the lights and siren on his patrol car and chased ensued in which Deputy Roach lost sight of the car. Two minutes later, Deputy Roach saw a Pontiac just like the one he had chased parked and unoccupied in a shopping center parking lot. Deputy Roach learned that Massey had been using the car. A few minutes later, officers located Massey near a McDonald’s restaurant at the entrance to the shopping center. Massey was belligerent, uncooperative, unsteady on his feet, his face was flushed, his speech was slurred, his eyes were bloodshot and watery, and he smelled strongly of alcohol. Massey refused field sobriety tests. Roach arrested Massey. Massey refused a blood test requested by Deputy Roach. Massey claimed that he had not been driving and rode to McDonald’s with friends. A witness testified that she rode with Massey during the chase and Massey’s mother testified that he had the car.

The State introduced similar transaction evidence regarding a May 31, 2004, DUI with similar facts to which Massey plead guilty. The Gainesville trial court admitted the evidence for the limited purpose of showing Massey’s bent of mind and course of conduct and not identity.  Massey argued that this case centered on identity and the state did not seek to introduce the 2004 DUI for purposes of identity, and the prejudicial impact of the evidence outweighed its probative value.

The Georgia Court of Appeals found that “evidence of a prior DUI offense, regardless of the circumstances surrounding its commission, is logically connected with a pending DUI charge as it is relevant to establish that the defendant has the bent of mind to get behind the wheel of a vehicle when it is less safe for him to do so.” (Footnote and punctuation omitted.) Caraway v. State, 286 Ga. App. 592, 596 (4) (649 SE2d 758) (2007). Thus, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court properly admitted the similar transaction evidence.

The question left by this appeal is: was relevance the issue or was the issue that the similar transaction was not admitted for purpose of identity but was considered by the jury to establish identity, was not the subject of a proper charge prohibiting the jury from considering the similar transaction for purposes of identity, or was more prejudicial than probative concerning the issue of identity. The opinion does not give us enough information to evaluate these issues. Further, the Georgia legislature passed a new evidence law prohibiting the use of similar transaction evidence except for DUI cases and then only for purposes of the bent of mind and course of conduct.

Does the new evidence legislation violate the uniformity provision of the Georgia Constitution? Art. III, Sec. VI, Par. IV (a), Ga. Const. of 1983?

“Our State Constitution only requires a law to have a uniform operation; and that means that it shall apply to all persons, matters, or things which it is intended to affect. If it operates alike on all who come within the scope of its provisions, constitutional uniformity is secured. Uniformity does not mean universality. This constitutional provision is complied with when the law operates uniformly upon all persons who are brought within the relations and circumstances provided by it.”

A law that operates uniformly upon all persons of a designated class is a general law within the meaning of the Constitution, provided that the classification thus made is not arbitrary or unreasonable.  C & S Nat. Bank v. Mann, 234 Ga. 884, 889(3), 218 S.E.2d 593 (1975). The two issues are (1) Does the new similar transaction legislation “operates uniformly throughout the state upon the subject or class of subjects with which it proposes to deal” Lasseter v. Ga. Public Service Comm., 253 Ga. 227, 229(2), 319 S.E.2d 824 (1984), and (2) Is the similar transactions legislation’s classification of the designated class arbitrary or unreasonable? See generally McAllister v. American National Red Cross, 240 Ga. 246(2), 240 S.E.2d 247 (1977). Similar Transaction evidence applies in DUI cases but not murder? To be continued…