The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed the conviction of a man who was accused of striking and seriously injuring a Hall County sheriff’s deputy with his car during a drug bust.
The high court found unanimously that a Hall County Superior Court jury returned a "mutually exclusive" verdict in the February 2007 trial of Chanju Dryden.
Dryden, 30, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in connection with a January 2006 incident in a convenience store parking lot in which Hall County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad Agent Mark Thomason was pinned between Dryden’s car and a truck belonging to an undercover officer. Thomason sustained serious leg injuries and was hospitalized for 12 days.
Dryden was found guilty of aggravated assault on a peace officer and serious injury by a vehicle caused by reckless driving.
Writing for the court, Justice Harris Hines wrote that jury verdicts are mutually exclusive "where a guilty verdict on one count logically excludes a finding of guilt on the other."
Aggravated assault can be either intentional or unintentional, whereas reckless driving "is a crime founded upon an act of criminal negligence, rather than an intentional act," Hines wrote.
Because the jury was given the option of convicting Dryden of aggravated assault either because he placed the officer in fear or actually injured him, "we cannot eliminate the reasonable probability that the jury concluded that Dryden intentionally attempted to commit a violent injury to Thomason," Hines wrote.
The appeal was argued successfully by defense attorney Troy Millikan. The decision overturns an earlier ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals that upheld Dryden’s conviction.
"Very seldom does the Supreme Court agree to consider an argument to reverse a Court of Appeals decision, much less overturn it, but I was confident of our legal argument before both courts," Millikan said. "There is no question that the Supreme Court made the right decision, and it was comforting that it was a unanimous decision by all seven judges."
Dryden will remain in prison at least until the decision is filed in Hall County Superior Court. The state has the option of asking the Supreme Court to reconsider before the decision officially is filed.
Dryden pleaded guilty to drug charges in the case but is serving a probated sentence concurrent with the prison sentence for the crimes he admitted, Millikan said.
District Attorney Lee Darragh said while his office would evaluate the court’s ruling, given the unanimous decision, "a motion for reconsideration is unlikely."
"In the event we do not move for reconsideration, we will prepare to retry the defendant as soon as practical," Darragh said.