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McDonald v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 19, 2017

JUANTEAZ MCDONALD A/K/A JUANTEAZ D. MCDONALD A/K/A JUANTEZ MCDONALD A/K/A JUANTEZ D. MCDONALD APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/02/2015

         MADISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. JOHN HUEY EMFINGER, TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, KAYLYN HAVRILLA MCCLINTON

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: MICHAEL GUEST

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., BARNES AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          BARNES, J.

         ¶1. 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.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. 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.[1] 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.

         ¶3. 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.

         ¶4. 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.

         DISCUSSION

         I.Whether the circuit court erred in proceeding with the jury trial in ...


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