GA Court of Appeals Says Immunity Hearing for Ashlyn Griffin Must Be Re-Done

On Friday, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a ruling in a case involving a domestic violence victim sentenced to prison in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit. 

BACKGROUND 

Ashlyn Griffin was arrested in 2020 by the Statesboro Police Department after shooting and killing her longtime convicted abuser and boyfriend Brandon McCray. From the beginning, she claimed she was acting in self-defense and in fear for her life.

The District Attorney’s Office, led by DA Daphne Totten, said Griffin was not acting in self defense because she fired two shots. During the trial, Chief ADA Barclay Black alleged that only the first shot fired by Griffin was justified, but the second was not. He asked her on the stand why she did not simply tell McCray to ‘get away.’ A medical examiner from the GBI Crime Lab testified that they could not determine which wound on McCray’s body occurred first and debunked a number of the state’s allegations. Griffin, who was pregnant at the time of the assault, said she thought McCray was going to kill her.

Griffin testified about the abuse as well as the shooting incident during the trial and a jury found her not guilty on the charge of Felony Murder, which was predicated on an Aggravated Assault charge. But jurors returned a verdict of guilty of the Aggravated Assault and Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony charges.

ADA Black lobbied for Griffin, now a mother of two, to serve the maximum time behind bars and Judge Peed ultimately sentenced her to 10 years to serve in prison on the Aggravated Assault charge followed by 10 years on probation, plus five additional years for the Possession charge. She was sentenced under the First Offender Act, which the state opposed. 

The same district attorney’s office prosecuted McCray in 2018 for a violent assault on Griffin while she was pregnant. In that case, McCray was sentenced for beating Griffin with a metal trash can and assaulting her to the point of pelvic hemorrhage, among other things. He was given 180 days in a Probation Detention Center.

Georgia Mother Charged with Murder in Case Against Longtime Abuser

A Georgia woman will soon stand trial for felony murder against the same prosecutors who once sent her abuser to prison for violently assaulting her. Ashlyn Griffin shot and killed her boyfriend, Brandon McCray, on June 5, 2020 in their shared residence in south Georgia.

APPEAL

Defense attorneys made a number of arguments on appeal and on request for a new trial in 2022 and 2023. Among those, was the decision by Judge Gates Peed to end an immunity hearing that took place ahead of the trial before it formally concluded. The request to end the hearing came at the request of District Attorney Daphne Totten’s Office and her Chief ADA Barclay Black. Black argued that because Ashlyn Griffin said she did not mean to kill McCray, she could not be immune from prosecution. Perf sided with the state, Griffin’s attorney, Mitch Warnock, asked Peed to reconsider, but he declined. The case proceeded to trial and yielded the split verdict, but the immunity hearing issue remained T the forefront on the appeal. 
READ MORE ABOUT THE APPEAL HERE

On Friday, the Georgia Court of Appeals said the trial court erred by failing to apply the correct analysis.

“Prior to trial, Griffin moved for immunity from prosecution pursuant to OCGA § 16-3-24.2 on the basis that she acted in self-defense in shooting the victim. At the hearing, Griffin testified that she was scared and feared the victim was going to hurt her and she had to defend herself, but that she did not intend to fire the first or second shot. She testified she had no recollection of pulling the trigger, she did not intend to shoot the victim, and she never meant to hurt him. She also testified that, after she fired the first shot, the victim ran from the bathroom; she headed out of the bathroom behind him; and, as the victim started coming towards her, she then fired the second shot.

“At the conclusion of the hearing, the State moved to dismiss Griffin’s motion for immunity from prosecution on the ground that she did not admit that she committed the act and thus could not claim a justification defense. The trial court granted the State’s motion to dismiss. Griffin moved the trial court to reconsider, but it refused.

When the trial court was presented with Griffin’s pre-trial motion for immunity, it was required to consider whether Griffin met her burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that she was entitled to immunity because she acted in reasonable belief that her use of force was necessary to defend herself from the victim. Pate v. State, 364 Ga. App. 107, 108-109 (3) (874 SE2d 132) (2022); Hughes, 312 Ga. at 157 (4). In support of her argument that the trial court failed in this regard, Griffin cites to McClure v. State, 306 Ga. 856 (834 SE2d 96) (2019). But, we have long before held that “[t]here is no requirement that [a defendant] had to admit to the specific allegations of violence in order to obtain the protection of [OCGA § 16-3-21 (a)].” State v. Yapo, 296 Ga. App. 158, 160 (2) (674 SE2d 44) (2009).

Here, however, the trial court determined that Griffin was not entitled to immunity because she testified that her actions were not intentional, as she did not intend to fire the first or second shot and did not intend to harm the victim. In so finding, the trial court relied on language in Lightning regarding the affirmative defense of justification and its requirement for an admission of the crime before raising the defense. Id. at 60 (5). The trial court thus failed to apply the correct analysis. 

The trial court made no specific findings regarding whether Griffin had a reasonable fear that such force was necessary to prevent the victim from attacking her. Instead, it conflated immunity from prosecution under OCGA § 16-3-24.2 with the affirmative defense of justification as set forth under OCGA § 16-3-21. See Copeland v. State, 310 Ga. 345, 349 (2) (850 SE2d 736) (2020). Because the trial court failed to apply the proper analysis, we must vacate the trial court’s order dismissing pretrial immunity, and remand the case for reconsideration consistent with this opinion.

Given our conclusion above, we do not address Griffin’s remaining arguments on appeal. Should the trial court once again deny Griffin’s pretrial immunity motion on remand, Griffin may raise her unresolved enumerations in another appeal.”

As such, the immunity hearing must be conducted again – to completion. 

The ruling by the Court of Appeals also gives Griffin the opportunity to petition for bond, pending further court action. Griffin was out on bond for almost two years leading up to her trial and after conviction prior to her sentencing hearing. 

You can read all the articles on the Ashlyn Griffin case here

District Attorney Daphne Totten, who lost her campaign for re-election in May, displayed Griffin on her campaign flyers and mailers as a ‘victory’ of convicted murderers, despite the fact that Griffin was found ‘not guilty’ of murder. She will remain in office until December 31, 2024.

Read the Court of Appeals ruling.

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Admissions of Juror Misconduct Not Enough for New Trial in Bulloch Domestic Violence Murder Case

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and co-creator of of the Peabody Award-nominated podcast 'Prison Town.'

Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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