Death Penalty Trial Delayed by Underfunded Indigent Defense System

The Georgia Supreme Court recently warned Gwinnett County officials that time to try the murder case of Khahn Dinh Phan is running out. Phan had petitioned the court to dismiss his charges due to the state’s inability to fund his defense and the violation of his right to a speedy trial. His case has not been brought to trial in nearly seven years, partly because of Georgia’s financially strained indigent defense system. Attorneys for Phan, who were hired by the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, said that they were never given money to hire experts or interview surviving eyewitnesses. In her ruling, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein (pictured) emphasized troubling issues raised by Phan’s case. Justice Hunstein wrote, “We emphasize that our determination that the trial court acted within its discretion should in no way be construed as an endorsement of the system that has led us down this tortuous path thus far. The interests of no one — neither prosecutors nor defendants, victims nor taxpayers — are served by the uncertainty and delay attending to a chronically underfunded indigent defense system.”

(S. Visser, “High court warns ‘clock is ticking’ in Gwinnett death penalty case,” The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, February 27, 2012). See Costs.