JUANTEAZ MCDONALD A/K/A JUANTEAZ D. MCDONALD A/K/A JUANTEZ MCDONALD A/K/A JUANTEZ D. MCDONALD APPELLANT
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 02/02/2015
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. JOHN HUEY EMFINGER, TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, KAYLYN
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: MICHAEL GUEST
LEE, C.J., BARNES AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.
Juanteaz McDonald was indicted on two counts of armed
robbery. Although he was repeatedly informed of his trial
date, McDonald did not appear on the morning of trial; so the
Madison County Circuit Court conducted the jury trial in
absentia. See Miss. Code Ann. § 99-17-9 (Rev.
2015). McDonald was found guilty on both counts and received
concurrent fifty-year sentences in the custody of the
Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), with ten years
suspended and five years of supervised probation. Appealing
his convictions, McDonald claims that the circuit court erred
in proceeding to trial in his absence and that he was
subjected to ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm the
judgment, finding the circuit court did not abuse its
discretion in proceeding with the trial in absentia, and we
dismiss without prejudice McDonald's claims of
ineffective assistance of counsel.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In August 2014, McDonald was indicted, along with three
accomplices, for two counts of armed robbery. His case was
set for trial on December 1, 2014, and McDonald was released
on bond. On November 14, 2014, McDonald appeared before the
circuit court and informed the court that he wished to
proceed to trial. At a pretrial conference on November 17,
2014, the circuit judge directed McDonald to "stay in
touch with [his] attorney and be prepared to go to trial on
December the 1st or at some point in time later this
week." McDonald appeared on December 1, but the trial
was delayed, and he was told to come back the following
morning at 9 a.m.
On December 2, however, McDonald failed to appear in circuit
court. The judge learned that the Jackson Police Department
had issued two additional warrants for McDonald a week
earlier and that McDonald was under federal investigation.
Defense counsel had contacted McDonald's mother, who told
her that when McDonald left the house that morning, he said
he was not going to court. The circuit judge concluded that
McDonald had "willfully, voluntarily and deliberately
absented himself from the trial" and, therefore,
"waived his right to be present." Defense counsel
objected and moved for a continuance, which the court denied,
and the trial proceeded in absentia. The jury found McDonald
guilty on both counts and, on February 2, 2015, the court
sentenced him to fifty years for each count in the custody of
the MDOC, with ten years suspended, five years of supervised
probation, and the sentences to run concurrently.
McDonald filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the
verdict or a new trial, which asserted several claims of
error, including the trial court's decision to conduct
the trial in McDonald's absence. The court held a hearing
on April 27, 2015, and subsequently denied the motion.
McDonald now appeals.
I.Whether the circuit court erred in proceeding with
the jury trial in ...