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Andrew Fleischman, Ross & Pines (Atlanta)

Georgia prosecutors never need to prove intent to convict someone of murder. Every car accident in the state is an aggravated assault, and every aggravated assault that results in death is murder. That’s because Georgia’s felony murder statute is an awful kludge—a poorly written statute heaped with broad interpretations of criminal liability until its only limits are the tender mercies of Georgia prosecutors. And that’s not just a bleeding-heart criminal defense attorney talking—that’s from a 2016 dissent by Chief Justice Harold Melton, Presiding Justice David Nahmias and Justice Keith Blackwell.

The Supreme Court of Georgia itself recognized these problems all the way back in 1976, noting that the law as written “can turn an accidental death into felony murder … even when a defendant cannot reasonably be thought to have manifested a man-endangering state of mind” and that it effectively eliminates the need to prove intent to kill. But it called these policy, rather than constitutional problems and proposed a number of statutory fixes that were never adopted, like having a specific law against negligent homicides. In that same opinion, the Supreme Court of Georgia rejected the merger doctrine that most states in the country apply—making Georgia one of only a small handful of states in which the assault that leads to someone’s death can also be the predicate for their murder.

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