Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

GA Supreme Court Update

Posted by Maggie on November 28, 2007

One of the many Nichols-related court issues has come down. Britt v. State, Ramseur v. State, and GPDSC v. Saunders are in one consolidated opinion. The short version is that other capital defendants requested documents relating to the funding of indigent defense from GPDSC, particularly Nichols. The Court ruled that GPDSC does not have to turn over the documents because it would reveal trial strategy of several open cases. They also ruled that these documents were irrelevant to the actual defense of these cases and so not subject to discovery. Further complicating the waters, attorneys in some cases refused to argue the motions citing a conflict between their clients and their employer. At first this sounds understandable, but then you find out that there were over a hundred separate motions filed on various issues and that the trial court was happy to let counsel choose which motions to argue and whether to present evidence. So they didn’t even have to talk about the funding motions, but still refused. Valiant, yes. But still contempt, says the Court. Two justices dissent and stand by defense council, arguing that any conflict is a big deal in a death penalty case. The dissent says conflict should stop the presses and halt proceedings until resolved.

This case is a complex one. I certainly wouldn’t want my expenses regarding consultation of experts exposed before trial. But I also wouldn’t want to have to continue representation when a potential conflict was acknowledged by the court. To me, it seems like the whole situation could have been handled better by the trial court, holding off on any further motions until the conflict was resolved. Just goes to show you the chaos the Nichols case is creating all over the State.

Also of note, Junior v. State, S07A0790. This is just a minor point in the opinion but one to consider. The Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that defense not be allowed to cross-examine witnesses about their immigration status. If your client or witnesses supporting your case are illegal immigrants, you should file a motion to exclude questioning on that topic. Now you’ve got the Supreme Court to back you up. It’s especially helpful in anti-immigrant counties.

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