A defendant is indicted on two criminal counts, is found guilty on one of those counts, and is sentenced to time in prison. However, the jury could not come to a decision on the other count, so the trial court judge places the count on the court’s dead docket where the count could remain for an indefinite period of time, deeming the defendant’s case pending in the trial court. Due to the defendant’s case being classified as pending, the defendant does not have the right to a direct appeal. The defendant must helplessly serve prison time without any idea as to when the count will come off the dead docket or when the defendant will be able to appeal the conviction and sentence. This outcome is a product of the General Assembly’s language in section 5-6-34(a)(1) of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. After a defendant attempted to appeal his sentence while one of his criminal counts was on the dead docket and was subsequently denied, the Georgia Supreme Court set out to analyze and clarify the meaning of O.C.G.A. § 5-6-34(a)(1) in Seals v. State.
When the defendant in Seals was found guilty on one count of his twocount indictment while the other count was placed on the dead docket, he directly appealed his conviction and sentence. The Georgia Court of Appeals denied his appeal because the dead-docketed count caused the defendant’s entire case to remain pending in the lower court. After granting a writ of certiorari, the Georgia Supreme Court reviewed the appellate court’s dismissal and subsequently upheld the dismissal after it interpreted the final judgment rule set out in O.C.G.A. § 5-6-34(a)(1) and held that a dead-docketed count was undecided and left the entire case pending in the lower court.
The supreme court’s analysis of the final judgment rule in O.C.G.A. § 5-6-34(a)(1) and the rule’s treatment of dead-docketed counts provides clarity as to when a defendant can directly appeal their conviction, as well as a defendant’s alternative options when a direct appeal is not available.
Lilly B. Nickels, Ding Dong! The Count is Dead, or Is It?: Criminal Defendants May Not Directly Appeal Convictions if Unresolved Counts are on the Dead Docket, 73 Mercer L. Rev. 1497 (2022).