Jones v. State, 537 S.E. 2d 80 (Ga. 2000)
The defendant was convicted of felony murder after a jury trial. On appeal, he argued the state failed to present sufficient evidence to establish that venue properly laid in the county in which he was trialed and convicted.
Held: Venue in all criminal cases must be laid in the county in which the crime was allegedly committed. Like every other material allegation in the indictment, venue must be proved by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt.Proof of venue is a part of the State’s case, and the State’s failure to prove venue beyond a reasonable doubt renders the verdict contrary to law, without a sufficient evidentiary basis, and warrants reversal. Because the court of appeals found that the state failed to prove venue beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendants conviction was reversed.
The evidence of record shows that in August 1995, Jones, the defendant asked David Zellars to help him buy crack cocaine. Zellars directed Jones to the home of Jerry Zellner and Horace Lawson. At the home, Zellars purchased drugs from Lawson, and Jones and Zellars then drove away.
Later that evening, Jones returned alone to the home. Gun shots were exchanged, and Jerry Zellner and Horace Lawson were killed. Jones was shot twice during this incident, and sought medical attention at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
While at Grady, Jones said that he had been kidnaped and robbed by two men, including David Zellars, and forced to drive to the home of Jerry Zellner and Horace Lawson, where Jones was shot. A bullet removed from Jones’s body matched the caliber of the rifle that Jerry Zellner was holding when he was fatally shot.
Ballistics testing showed that the bullets removed from Jerry Zellner’s body could have come from either: (1) a .9 mm pistol, such as the one owned by Jones’s wife that was found after the murder discarded along an interstate highway ramp near Grady Hospital, or (2) a .380 pistol, such as the one recovered after the murder from Jones’s car.
These facts, supported by evidence introduced at trial, were sufficient to enable rational jurors to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Jones was guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted.
Jones appealed his conviction. On appeal, he argued that the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that venue lied in the county in which he was tried and convicted.
Whether the government satisfied its burden of proving venue beyond a reasonable doubt.
Venue in all criminal cases must be laid in the county in which the crime was allegedly committed. Like every other material allegation in the indictment, venue must be proved by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt.Proof of venue is a part of the State’s case, and the State’s failure to prove venue beyond a reasonable doubt renders the verdict contrary to law, without a sufficient evidentiary basis, and warrants reversal.
In this case, the court found that the state failed to prove venue beyond a reasonable doubt.
Here is how the court explained its position:
In this matter, Jones pled not guilty to the indictment lodged against him, thereby challenging all the accusations contained therein, including those pertaining to venue. Hence, the State was required to introduce evidence establishing venue beyond a reasonable doubt. Our review of the record shows that the State failed to satisfy this evidentiary burden.
Jones was tried in the Superior Court of Fulton County, based upon the State’s accusation that the murder he stood accused of took place in Fulton County. The record reveals that the City of Atlanta police officers who responded to the shooting patrolled both Fulton and DeKalb Counties. Therefore, the Atlanta Police Department’s investigation of the murder does not establish that venue was properly laid in Fulton County.
At trial, the only evidence regarding venue concerned the county in which the murder victims’ neighbor lived. The neighbor testified, (1) that his home is located on Evans Drive, (2) that Evans Drive is located in Fulton County, and (3) that his home is located directly across the street from the murder victims’ home. However, while this testimony was somewhat relevant to the location of the neighbor’s home, it was irrelevant with regard to the locale of the victims’ home where the murder took place. It is entirely possible that the neighbor’s house is located in one county, while the houses located across the street are sited in an adjoining county. Moreover, a street name, standing alone, is never sufficient to establish venue, because streets frequently run through more than one county.
Accordingly, this being the only evidence of record pertaining to venue, we conclude that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that venue for appellant’s murder trial was properly laid in Fulton County.
Jones conviction was reversed and the case was remanded to the lower court because the state failed to prove venue, an essential element of the crime, beyond a reasonable doubt.