We Need Your Voice: Georgia Moves to Slash Public Defender’s Appellate Division
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 of the Georgia Public Defender Council (GPDC). These lawyers are the first line of defense against wrongful and unjust convictions for Georgia’s indigent population, and they routinely hold the prosecutors, police and judges accountable to the law and the constitution.
Please contact your Georgia lawmakers listed below as soon as possible, and ask them to VOTE NO on HB 793, and instead fully fund GPDC’s Appellate Division.
What You Need to Know:
HB 793 proposes a roughly 45% budget cut–about 1 million of a 2.3-million-dollar budget–to the Appellate Division of the Georgia Public Defender Council (GPDC), which would dramatically undermine the constitutional right to effective appellate counsel for people who cannot afford to hire private attorneys.
Click here for a letter Georgia Innocence Project recently sent to Georgia legislators about HB 793, the impact such drastic cuts will have on the Appellate Division, and the critical need to fully fund Georgia’s public defense system.
Here is a letter from the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers that explains the history of Georgia’s dismal record with underpaid contract lawyers, which led to the formation of Georgia’s Indigent Defense Act of 2003, and the litigation that prompted creation of GPDC’s Appellate Division.
What is the difference between a trial, an appeal, and a post-conviction proceeding in Georgia?
We all have some basic rights designed to protect us against being unjustly and wrongly convicted by our criminal legal system. Those rights include the right to a competent attorney to represent us at trial and on appeal, regardless of whether we can afford to hire a private attorney.
- Trial: A person who is charged with a crime in Georgia has a constitutional right to a trial by jury, to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and to an attorney to represent them during that trial. People with adequate financial resources usually hire a private attorney, but those who cannot afford a private attorney are appointed a competent attorney by the State.
- Appeal: If a person is convicted in a trial, that person then has a constitutional right to appeal the conviction. The ability to appeal a conviction is a critical check on our criminal legal system. Georgians challenge a range of errors in their criminal cases through the appeals process, including prosecutorial and government misconduct, unlawful searches and seizures, and ineffective assistance of counsel. At this stage, lawyers from the Appellate Division can catch and correct wrongful convictions and other injustices fairly early in the process, when memories are fresh, harm and damages are limited, and there is a constitutional right to counsel.
- Post-Conviction Proceeding: These are proceedings that generally take place after the appeal is finished. There is no constitutional right to counsel at this stage. In Georgia, post-conviction proceedings include habeas corpus litigation and extraordinary motions for new trial. GIP only accepts cases at this stage, and by the time we accept an innocent person’s case the barriers to relief are overwhelming and the years lost to wrongful conviction are often measured in decades. We are funded by individual donors rather than the State, and we can accept only a tiny fraction of the thousands of people who seek our help. 98% of GIP applicants are indigent and 77% are Black. 89% of people exonerated and freed by GIP are Black.
WE NEED YOUR VOICE! Ask lawmakers to VOTE NO on HB 793. Demand that Georgia lawmakers protect the constitutional right to counsel by fully funding the Appellate Division.