Republicans Works to Ban Death Penalty

Here’s this from the AJC:

Life without parole could be an option for prosecutors, when it comes to aggravated murder cases.

Senate Bill 13, sponsored by Sen. Preston Smith (R-Rome), passed the Senate by a vote of 54 to 0 today.

Now, Senator Smith does not intend to ban the death penalty, but that’s what’s happening based on his actions and those of his fellow Republicans.

Smith has been working to cut judiciary budgets and freeze public defender pay. I’m hearing from a number of judges that because of actions they attribute to Preston Smith and his cohorts in the General Assembly, it is becoming more and more likely that the federal judiciary will probably shut down Georgia’s death penalty.

The state won’t pay for lawyers for death penalty cases, which means cases stay on hold. At some point the failure to try the case gives the judges no choice but to let the accused out of jail, etc.

Now, as I said earlier, I’m not one to believe judges should be able to order the legislature to spend money. That said, each defendant in a death penalty case gets his own two person team of lawyers. Those lawyers cannot be connected to each other in the same office. They all get resources to investigate and defend. As a result, they have to have money. I know of some cases where the defense attorney hasn’t been paid in over a year.

The failure to find the funding will shut down death penalty cases.

So, in reality though they would prefer to deny it, because the Republicans won’t spend the money, they are in effect shutting down the death penalty in Georgia.

32 comments

  1. Chris says:

    Good.

    The Death Penalty provides little benefit outside of giving Phil Kent and Dick Williams something to talk about on the Georgia Gang. It serves little purpose other than to rally the right-wing rabble in the GOP during primary season.

  2. John Konop says:

    This debate is very important and is the core reason we are in the red. It is very easy to pass laws and shove the cost down our throats with no regards to budget.

    At the end we must take out the emotion of the situation and look at the problem from reality.

    I do support the death penalty but not at the cost of bankrupting the system.

    The war on drugs sounds great but it is failure that has financially drained our country with poor results!

    And this lack of logic is demonstrated over and over again.

    Look at the following;

    No Child Left Behind leaving students and tax payers behind

    Farm bill via bio-fuel scam

    Drug Prescription bill with no money to pay for it

    I could go on and on and I am sure we get the point.

    We need real adults telling people that no solution is a 100%. And we must do what is best for most but at the end we cannot afford to bankrupt the country over trying to obtain a goal of a 100% which is impossible.

    ROLLING STONES – “YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT” 72′

  3. B. Steely says:

    the death penalty and fiscal responsibility don’t mix. death penalty defense cost too much to defend and of corse the defense expense is borne by the tax payers. hence, it seems impossibel to argue “death penalty – hard on crime” and “cut taxes – cut budgets”

    there are a lot of reasons to oppose the death penalty, but the most politically viable reason is the incredibly high cost of prosecution. the end result will be letting go of the neglible death penalty benefits, if any, and recognizing the high cost of death penalty proscutions does not warrant the penalty.

  4. Dash Riptide says:

    I think that there needs to be a window of opportunity during which a murderer can unilaterally admit to factual guilt and accept a sentence of life without parole in lieu of a death penalty trial once the DA announces that he or she is seeking the death penalty. The current bill would not alleviate the political pressure on the DA to refuse a plea deal for defendants like Brian Nichols. With such legislation in place the death penalty would still exist as a psychological deterrent and as an incentive for the obviously guilty to accept plea deals, but in practice death penalty trials would be more rare. I’m sure few district attorneys would admit publicly that this is a good idea, but I have a feeling the vast majority of them would be relieved to have discretion taken away from them in a Brian Nichols scenario – especially in “blue” counties. The only downside I see is that victims’ families would rarely get the “satisfaction” of seeing the murderer of one of their own pay the ultimate price, but in practice carrying out the death penalty a decade or more after the fact rarely satisfies anyone anyway.

  5. Bucky Plyler says:

    Is the arguement that the death penalty is wrong, unjust or is it that it costs too much? Just because it costs too much does not make it wrong or unjust.

    I certainly don’t want the wrong person put to death, and that sentiment is one of the reasons for the cost. Dash’s idea could save money, and I would like to hear some legal opinion about why it has not flown before.

    If the fight is simply that the death penalty is unjust-that position will not be shared by the majority of GA voters. Why not look for a solution to work out between the judical & legislative branches that might survive SC scrutiny?

  6. Tinkerhell says:

    If it’s a good place to cut back for now & DOESN’T end up “killing” the death penalty option permanently, then I say go with it. As JK states, we have to cut back all over & some of those choices are going to be hard.

    My only beef is that I have little doubt we are wasting money in many more places that could be cut first…

  7. eehrhart says:

    Erick,

    The entire progam for the Public Defender system was set up to so burden the Habeas system that it would effectively destroy the death penalty in Georgia. Just look at those who have been a part of the council. Mears, Bondurant et al who are avid anti death penalty folks.

    This has been nothing but a silk stocking law firm for giving away money to lawyers across the state to make big overall fees on these cases. For goodness sake they even have misdemeanors in this with investigators. What private paying defendent gets that?

    It is long past time to rein this in and we are going to do just that.

    Over the top on money and over the top on what they want to accomplish by stealth as opposed to what the people of the state of Georgia would allow for these type defendants.

  8. SavannahDem says:

    This issue was discussed in an earlier thread about “reforming” the PD system.

    The bottom line is that if we want to prosecute indigent defendants, then the constitution mandates that we have to pay the defense costs.

    However, the legislature doesn’t want to pay those costs. Soon the courts will step in and set the legislature straight or the defendants free.

    I vote for the former over the latter.

    Oh, and Rep. Ehrhart, the defense lawyers down here in Savannah who are being forced to work for no pay, they’re good people. Y’all should stop screwing them.

  9. eehrhart says:

    Grift please tell me where in the 6th amendment it says you get millions of other peoples money for your defense? The issue is not whether individuals are entitled to 6th amendment protections, they are. The issue is how much abuse of the system those who do not want the death penalty are willing and able to get away with. They are truly the ones who are causing problems for indigents who need lawyers.

    Savannah Dem, The courts cannot tell the legislative branch what to spend! Read the separation of powers.
    The idea that they are working for no pay is just not true. The defense counsel association was asked if any of their members wanted to give just one case pro bono in the hearings and they said “oh no we cant do that” Such hypocrisy! They want the cash period.

    The people of Georgia are fed up with millions in the coddling of criminals. Give them a cheap 1st year out of law school lawyer and let them take their chances. Hey if the State Bar certified them then they must be capable right?
    Defendants are not under the 6th amendment entitled to high priced millionaire lawyers abusing the system.

    I can win this argument with the people anytime you want to take it to them in any type referenda.

  10. Making Sense says:

    Okay, so the Republican Party, already ceding the field on a host of issues such as transportation, water, and education funding is now going to weaken its stand on the law and order front…

    Georgia is going blue in 2010…

  11. rugby says:

    “Give them a cheap 1st year out of law school lawyer and let them take their chances.”

    That’s the attitude we want of our elected officials towards the citizens of Georgia! (And maybe even towards some of his own constituents!)

    “I can win this argument with the people anytime you want to take it to them in any type referenda.”

    Once again…

  12. John Konop says:

    Earl

    In all due respect we cannot assume everyone is guilty that is arrested. And I am sure you would not support a system that denies the accused a viable defense.

    In most cases the arrested are guilty of something. The issue in most cases is what they should be charged with, what should be done ie jail time or drug rehabilitation…. or in murder case if guilty should the death penalty be applied.

    We should focus on the best solution without bankrupting the system. And it seems if we can settle the cases faster and push non-violent drug offenders toward rehabilitation instead of time it would save tax payers money and serve the justice system.

    I realize no solution will be a 100% affective but the above seems to be much more rational approach.

  13. John Konop says:

    Making Sense

    As I said it is very easy to pass laws and shove the cost down our throats with no regards to budget.

    At the end we should give credit to the Senate for taking on an emotional issue that you would rather use for political purposes than dealing in reality

  14. griftdrift says:

    Well, Rep. Ehrhart, you just might. You might also win on a referendum to have free ice cream on Tuesday.

    But I’ll tell you what. Let’s go with that referendum. You take your populist preaching to the people and I’ll talk to them about fundamental decency, justice and the priniciples which have made this country great for over 200 years. You know talk to them like adults. And I’ll take your wager on who wins.

    But we both know none of that matters. Because the first time you throw a first year lawyer with a few thousand dollar into a capital case where an overzealous prosecutor brings 50 counts, the Supreme Court will rule the whole system unconstitutional. Which means back to square one not only for the trial but the entire system. How much will that cost the tired, good people of Georgia?

    Now that might allow you to win a few more elections by railing against those activists judges in Washington, but let’s not pretend it’s in any way beneficial to the tired, good people of Georgia.

  15. drjay says:

    to agree w/ what konop said–it is probably important to remember these people would not be getting arrested if they were not guilty of something…

  16. SavannahDem says:

    Rep. Ehrhart,

    The courts can tell the legislature that a funding scheme (or lack of funding) violates the constitution.

    I would suggest some reading for you. Start with Marbury v. Madison, and when you’re done with that (and understand it), I’ll give you the next case.

    Also, I have some lawyers down here that you can call. They are conflict attorneys on indigent defense cases. They have been told that they will not be paid. Thus, they are attempting to withdraw from representing these clients.

    These attorneys believe in the free market. They believe they should be paid for their services. Do you disagree?

  17. eehrhart says:

    Grift,

    Ok lets try an example. You preach that “decency” requires that the public spend millions on defending Brian Nichols who was on video tape murdering citizens. I will preach that an adequete defense would be a young lawyer doing his best for a reasonable sum. Perhaps the same amount, around 75k per year which is what the public lawyer is getting paid to protect the public. I will submit that decent intellingent citizens of Georgia will side with me and they wont even want an ice cream.

    As for judges sending this type case back because of lack of proper defense that is just the problem with the system of turf we have in the judicial arena. It is bleeding the public dry and they are fed up.

    SDem: of course they can rule that funding scheme is unconstitutional. What I said is they cannot tell the legislative branch how much to appropriate. I can probably do a better precis on Marbury than you ever could anticipate so save your sarcasm.

    Yes the Council told those lawyers they would not be paid in an attempt to leverage their sleazy game they are playing with the funds. I believe they also called all Legislators “kidnappers and murderers” Truly an adult statement from them. These are the people wasting our money and keeping your friends from getting paid not the legislature.

  18. Erick says:

    Rep. Ehrhart,

    That’s great to hear. I’m glad you are working on an alternative scheme. To be fair, the judicial criticisms are mostly aimed at your colleagues in the Senate.

    I think the system definitely needs to be reformed and can be reformed while still protecting the rights of the accused.

  19. griftdrift says:

    “You preach that “decency” requires that the public spend millions on defending Brian Nichols who was on video tape murdering citizens.”

    No I did not.

    But I’ll tell you what I will argue.

    I will argue that our system is based on a right to a defense when the state is trying to take away our rights. I would argue that our only defense against the state arbitrarily taking away those rights is an adequate defense. And the ultimate right is the right to live therefore when the state is attempting to take that right we have the ultimate responsibility to provide the highest level of defense possible.

    I will argue that the greatest justice system the world has ever seen was not envisioned by our Founders as based on letting it’s citizens “take their chances”.

    And I will argue that sending one cub attorney against the entire power of the state is neither fair nor decent nor just.

    And I won’t need ice cream either.

  20. I’m going to cut the middle road between Grift and Rep. Ehhart here.

    I like Dash’s idea from 8:50 in that the defendant would have x amount of time to say ‘Hey, I’m guilty of everything’ and take the life w/o parole. If he doesn’t do so and the prosecution can get a unanimous conviction AND a unianimous death sentence, execute him – but don’t wait a decade. Establish rules that all appeals must be complete within 2-5 yrs post initial conviction. (‘Right to a speedy trial’ and all…)

    If the prosecution misses on the sentence, but proves guilt, the convicted gets a mandatory life w/o parole. In other words, a gamble for both the defense and prosecution as to whether the defendant should just flat out say ‘I’m guilty’.

    Here’s where I’m going Grift’s direction somewhat: Obviously, a freshly minted lawyer isn’t going to have what it takes to go against a seasoned veteran. But instead of having TWO seasoned veterans, allow ONE – and a lawyer with less than 5 yrs experience to sit as second chair. The defendant still gets adequate representation, AND the younger lawyer gets to watch an ‘old pro’ to see how it is done. But it doesn’t cost the taxpayers as much money.

    Furthermore, do away with the requirement that each defendant needs a lawyer from a separate firm. Lawyers are adults and professionals, treat them as such.

  21. Bucky Plyler says:

    I like fudge ripple ice cream.

    The legislative issue is to try to avoid another Brian Nichols outcome. I think the Rep. should be commended on that issue-the Senate is where this legislation had to originate. Now, the House has the issue. The taxpayers of GA shouldn’t be subjected to this outcome again.

    The other issues are important but secondary to this one.

  22. Bucky Plyler says:

    Maybe if the state catches you on video tape killing people- we should be good citizens of the world & contract the sentencing phase to a court in Saudia Arabia or China. It appears, that our courts don’t know what to do with such criminals.

  23. mdk1911 says:

    Rep. Eehrhart,

    I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for over 5 years now. I did a stint with a public defenders office, and am currently on one of the few remaining appointed panels. I handle many more cases that are retained than those few appointed. There are people out here who barely scrape by trying to give everyone a honest defense. I’ve handled multiple felony cases for less than $600 through our appointed system. It would be a Godsend to my little firm to handle a case that paid even $25,000 with a government guarantee of payment at the end. There are people here who scoff saying that doesn’t rate you a decent defense. I’ll disagree with that sentiment until the day I die. You know better then anyone what small business and free enterprise means. We entrepreneurs work until the breaking of dawn trying to do our best, because we are accountable to our own conscience. There are those of us out here who will jump through the hoops, get the certifications, and do what it takes to protect the rights of the accused… if we are allowed to.

    There are those who would squander public funds, we’ve seen that already. The solution is to bring free enterprise back into the system. Allow people whose reputation is on the line with every trial to take these cases. Allow defendants to chose their lawyers. A voucher program would allow indigent defendants to hire any lawyer of their choosing who was willing to accept a standard fee. Implement that and we will see who is willing to put in the long hours to gain their trust and who are simply sucking at the government nipple. Set high standards and require high training for people who wish to accept the vouchers. The defendants will have someone they trust, the government will see savings, and justice will have the best and the brightest making the system bearable.

  24. John Konop says:

    mdk1911

    In all due respect nothing you said would lower the cost. The faster the case is settled in general the cost goes down. And as you know most of the cases are not a question of guilt or innocence but are negotiations of degree of guilt vs. time served. Also the biggest cost factors to tax payers are length of case and cost of incarceration.

    And the two biggest cost factors clogging the system are non-violent drug offenders and capital murder cases.

    The solution seems fairly simple. Work with non-violent drug offenders via drug rehabilitation over incarceration and offer life without parole on capital murder cases.

    The last issue is lawyers on both sides who gamble the justice system over the best interest of their client for self promotion. I have no solution for this problem.

  25. Dash Riptide says:

    Taking a pass on free ice cream “well played”? Please. Is it “leave the gun and the cannoli”? Of course not. Duh. Take the dang cannoli. Take the frickin’ ice cream. Duh.

  26. dorian says:

    Rep. Ehrhart,

    When Mears was appointed as the first director of the PDSC what did you expect? Seriously, even if you haven’t met the guy, surely someone MUST have heard his reputation at the time. I know you guys didn’t put him him, but still, you should have had a clue on how it would spin out. The best thing that could have happened is what did happen with Mack Crawford taking it over. He has done an excellent job.

    The habeas system has proliferated, but it isn’t just in Death Penalty cases. It is across the board, and I would give an offhand observation that it started in the federal system and trickled down.

    Most of your rank and file in the PD’s office aren’t the zealots. They are the good, reasonable attorneys who work very hard. Funny, I think the rabid-ness decreases by proportion relative to the distance of the office from Atlanta.

  27. eehrhart says:

    Well said Dorian and I agree on the degree of rabidness. I want to see the system reformed and the current council is the problem, not the hard working pd’s who actually do the work for reasonable sums. Mack Crawford was unquestionably the man for the job. He is as centered and calm a human who ever walked these halls. He can steer a course between these competing interests if anybody can. He can also be as stubborn as the mules he raises in a just cause and I really like that about him. He will not waver when he thinks he is right. Yes we knew of Mears, Bright, Bondurant and company and are only now doing something about it.

    Grift I am giving your ice cream to Icarus because he is obviously more appreciative than you could ever be. And my sentence structure did not say that you said that; I meant that you should take that side of the argument. I would never accuse you of saying something you did not. You might block me from your blog and I enjoy your wit on there. Finally Grift every citizen takes their chance in our system of Justice. There are no guarantees and why should indigents get better representation than the poor citizen that makes maybe 35k and doesnt qualify as indigent and has to take their chance with the only lawyer they can afford. Oh yea and they get the priveledge of funding the indigents defense through any fees they may pay. What a deal!

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