Georgia Supreme Court reverses decision on Ryan Duke funding

The Georgia Supreme Court has reversed a ruling from an Irwin County court against Ryan Duke in his attempt to obtain state funds for defense experts and investigators.

Court officials say that the issue was around whether or not Georgia’s Indigent Defense Act of 2003 allows for public funding to pay for defense experts and investigators when the defendant is represented by private attorneys who are providing legal services at no charge.

Duke, who was indicted in 2017 for the 2005 murder of Tara Grinstead, was denied funding by the lower court that ruled that the Indigent Defense Act no longer required local governments to provide funding for such requests, and while Duke “has a constitutional right to be represented by private, pro bono counsel if he so chooses, he is not simultaneously constitutionally entitled to experts and investigators funded by the State.”

However, the Georgia Supreme Court has reversed the ruling and sent the case back to the Irwin County court.

“Contrary to the trial court’s conclusion, the Indigent Defense Act allows an indigent defendant to obtain such ancillary defense services through a contract between pro bono counsel and either the Georgia Public Defender Council or the appropriate circuit public defender,” wrote Chief Justice Harold Melton writes for the majority in the 8-to-1 decision.

The text and structure of the Act “indicate that the Georgia Public Defender Council and its director will support attorneys who represent indigent defendants but are not in a circuit public defender office,” the opinion says. “The Indigent Defense Act also allows the Georgia Public Defender Council and circuit public defenders to contract with outside counsel and then provide ancillary service funding to indigent defendants represented by such attorneys.” “We note that although Duke’s pro bono counsel applied for funding from the Georgia Public Defender Council, the record does not indicate that his counsel has tried to contract for ancillary services with either the Georgia Public Defender Council or the Tifton Judicial Circuit Public Defender, as is authorized under the Indigent Defense Act,” the majority opinion says according to court officials.

The opinion added:

Because the contractual mechanism is available to Duke, there is no need at this point to address the difficult constitutional questions that would arise if Duke is unable to obtain needed ancillary services in this case. Because the trial court also did not have to decide those questions, we vacate that portion of the trial court’s order. And we remand the case to allow Duke to seek a contract with the Georgia Public Defender Council or the circuit public defender that would provide him access to state-funded ancillary services.

Read the full opinion below or click here to read it on the Georgia Supreme Court’s website.