SCHR Sends Letter to GA Public Defender Council Concerning Failure to Provide Counsel to Hundreds of Georgians Accused of Crimes
On August 18, SCHR sent a letter to Georgia Public Defender Council (GPDC) Executive Director Omotayo Alli about our concern that GPDC is failing to provide C-3 conflict counsel to hundreds of accused persons across Georgia, in violation of their right to counsel under the US and Georgia Constitutions and Georgia’s Indigent Defense Act.
Records we’ve obtained through Open Records Act requests indicate there are at least 620 people charged with crimes in Georgia currently without legal representation. Many of them have been sitting in jails for months awaiting bond and arraignment hearings simply because they have no one to represent them.
Two people in just this situation appeared in Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney’s courtroom on the same day early last month. The first had come from the jail for a status conference that morning but his lawyer, whom he had never met, had resigned. Judge McBurney said he would reschedule him when they could find him a lawyer. “How long is that going to be?” the young man asked. “If I had that answer I would give it to you,” Judge McBurney said. “We are working through an unacceptable crisis, and you are not the only one.”
Another young man in the same situation appeared before Judge McBurney that afternoon. His co-defendants, one of whom appeared right after him in plain clothes, out on bond, had been appointed lawyers from the Public Defenders and Conflict Defenders’ offices. To avoid a conflict of interest, he’d need a lawyer from another firm- a “C-3” conflict attorney. “We’re struggling around the state with these C-3 lawyers,” Judge McBurney said. “I’ll bring you back when you’ve got a lawyer in place.” The young man’s mother said she wanted him to have his day in court, and she was fearful because he had been hospitalized after he was stabbed 12 times in the jail. “We are trying, but we can’t afford an attorney.” Judge McBurney responded that there’s no expectation that they hire one. This is the State’s duty, he said, and “the State of Georgia is not living up to its obligation.”
GPDC must remedy this constitutional crisis by taking immediate steps to retain and adequately compensate enough qualified C-3 attorneys to represent all accused persons who cannot be represented by their circuit defender due to a conflict of interest.
“It is unacceptable that in 2022 there are hundreds of people languishing in Georgia jails away from their families, homes and jobs — for months or years at a time — without a lawyer. When your liberty is on the line, your access to a lawyer should not be reduced to a game of chance. We are calling on GPDC to take immediate action to recruit and adequately compensate qualified lawyers to end this constitutional crisis.” -SCHR attorney Vanessa Carroll
In our letter to Director Alli, we asked for a meeting to discuss a resolution, but have not yet received a response. Read the full letter below: