State v. Hanna, S18A1559, Ga. Supreme Court, Decided February 4, 2019
In this case, Hanna pleaded guilty to felony murder predicated on first degree child cruelty, in violation of OCGA 16-5-70, and other charges. The trial court sentenced Hanna to a split sentence of 10 years, based on the rule of lenity, effectively sentencing her as if she was convicted of contributing to the deprivation of a minor leading to death, in violation of OCGA 16-12-1, rather than felony murder. The State appealed. First, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that Hannah’s sentence was void because the only legal sentences for felony murder are death, life imprisonment, or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and the trial court could not impose any other sentence for felony murder. The Court observed that Hanna could have filed a general demurrer to the charge of felony murder based on the rule of lenity, or that she could have challenged the felony murder conviction based on the rule of lenity. Second, the Supreme Court held that Hanna could withdraw her guilty plea to felony murder as of right, pursuant to OCGA 17-7-93, because her sentence for the offense of felony murder was void. However, the Supreme Court observed that Hanna could not withdraw her guilty plea to child cruelty as of right, because her sentence on that count was not void.