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Your Voice Needed: Protect the Constitutional Right to Counsel

Georgia’s Public Defender System is in crisis. The Georgia legislature has proposed budget cuts that, if passed, will bring the system to its knees. Thank you in advance for taking action to preserve and promote the right to counsel for all people.

The ability to appeal a conviction is an important check on our criminal legal system. Through the appeals process, Georgians challenge a range of errors in their criminal cases, including prosecutorial misconduct, unlawful searches and seizures, and ineffective assistance of counsel. Because this stage is so vital, Georgians have a constitutional right to appellate counsel. But Georgians who cannot afford an appellate lawyer will see this right eliminated under House Bill 793, which would slash the Appellate Division of the Georgia Public Defender Council’s budget by almost $1 million.

The Appellate Division has twelve full-time lawyers who represent Georgians in their criminal appeals when the defendant doesn’t have the resources to hire an attorney. These lawyers represent over 200 incarcerated poor people throughout Georgia. If the funding cuts in HB 793 pass, these individuals will likely go from having a dedicated and experienced appellate defender to a part-time contract lawyer who will receive a small financial benefit to take the case.

Our state’s track record with underpaid contract lawyers is a dismal one, which is what prompted the passage of the landmark Indigent Defense Act of 2003, which replaced a system heavily reliant on part-time contractors with dedicated, full-time lawyers like those in the Appellate Division. The funding cuts in HB 793 will turn back the clock to a time when quality representation for the poor was luck of the draw, not the guarantee enshrined in the Georgia and U.S. constitutions.

Georgians are constitutionally entitled to effective counsel in their trials AND in their appeals. But that right will be undermined with the elimination of the one entity created to protect it – the Appellate Division.

Take Action

We have a script for you to use when emailing or calling lawmakers, but please feel free to personalize the message. In addition to emailing your own reps, please email the below group (you can just copy and paste and send!)

[email protected]; [email protected];  [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]

Suggested script:

“I write to ask you to VOTE NO on HB 793’s proposed budget cuts to the Appellate Division of the Georgia Public Defender Council (GPDC). The Appellate Division makes real the constitutional right to effective counsel for incarcerated people challenging their convictions. If these cuts pass, the Appellate Division will cease to exist as a law office, causing disruption and uncertainty for hundreds of existing incarcerated clients in the short-term, and lowering the quality of defense across Georgia in the long-term.

I recognize that this is an unprecedented time for everyone. The pandemic is forcing every state agency to make difficult decisions about the road ahead. As you weigh the important budget decisions before you, I ask you to remember the progress our state has made in bringing meaning to the right to counsel, and the important ground that will be lost with these cuts. Please vote no on proposed budget cuts to the Appellate Division of the Georgia Public Defender Council.”