Have you Been Charged with Violating the Oath as a Public Officer in Georgia?
Who is Considered a Public Officer and What is the Oath?
While the Georgia code does not have a specific statute defining a public officer, it can include both appointed and elected offices. The oath is exclusive to the position. Here is the oath Sheriffs are required to take in Georgia as provided by O.C.G.A. §15-16-4
“I do swear that I will faithfully execute all writs, warrants, precepts, and processes directed to me as sheriff of this county, or which are directed to all sheriffs of this state, or to any other sheriff specially, which I can lawfully execute, and true returns make, and in all things well and truly, without malice or partiality, perform the duties of the office of sheriff of _____ County, during my continuance therein, and take only my lawful fees. So help me God.”
What Has to Be Proven to Be Convicted of Violating the Oath as a Public Officer?
In order to convict an officer of violating his oath of office, the State must prove that the defendant was actually administered an oath, that the oath was prescribed by law, and that the officer violated the terms of that oath. Dimauro v. State, 341 Ga. App. 710, (2017).
Oaths can be violated even while the officer is off duty. The issue is not whether the officer was on duty at the time the prohibited action occurred, but whether there was some connection between the offense and the public officer's official duties. Barnes v. State, 230 Ga. App. 884, (1998).
Georgia Case Law
Public officers can violate their oath in a plethora of ways. Some examples of cases where the Court ruled an officer violated their oath include:
- There was sufficient evidence to support a conviction of the accused, who had served as a police officer. The officer was accused of abusing his authority in an effort to coerce sexual favors from women who were subject to his arrest and for violating his oath as a public officer. Even though the State did not introduce into evidence the terms of any county rule, ordinance, or regulation; the accused admitted he took an oath requiring him to faithfully observe all rules, orders, and regulations of the police department. The Court concluded there was evidence that the alleged conduct of the accused would have constituted a violation of rules, and he admitted that conduct would have constituted a violation of his oath of office. Reynolds v. State, 3334 Ga. App. 496, (2015).
- Evidence was sufficient to support a police officer's conviction for violation of oath of office when the officer obtained someone's social security number and provided it to a retail store when she opened up a cell phone account. The Court found that even though the unlawful conduct was not done as part of the officer's official duties, the misuse of access to sensitive information was an abuse of officer's position, and by committing identity fraud, officer committed a felony demonstrating inherent moral baseness and violated her oath of office. Gaskins v. State, 318 Ga. App. 8, (2012).
- The Court found sufficient evidence to support the conviction of a corrections officer for violating the oath of office. A prison inmate testified that the corrections officer asked him what he would pay him to avoid being charged with possession of marijuana by an inmate. Further, the inmate testified that he agreed to pay the officer $2,000 to avoid being charged. Therefore, the Court found the officer guilty of violating his oath of office. Beard v. State, 300 Ga. App. 146, (2009).
Penalty for Violating the Oath in Georgia
If a public officer is convicted of violating the oath in Georgia, the punishment will be a prison term between one and five years.
Defenses Public Officers Can Use in Georgia
The oath was not administered correctly: If the officer was not administered an oath, or the oath was not prescribed by law, then they will not be guilty of violating their oath.
What Are Not Defenses
The oath was vague: Just because the oath was vague will not be an adequate defense. A police officer attempted to use this argument when he pawned guns confiscated from an automobile stop in order to pay his water bill. He argued that his oath was vague. The Court did not accept this defense because they said the officer could not reasonably have been surprised that his conduct violated his sworn duty as a police officer. Poole v. State, 262 Ga. 718, (1993).
The officer was off duty: As stated previously, it does not matter if the officer was on or off duty when the action occurred. The officer can still be convicted of violating their oath while off duty.
A charge for violating your oath is not to be taken lightly. The consequences are severe, and you do not have time to waste trying to fight your case on your own. Contact The Law Offices of Lawson and Berry today for a free case evaluation.