Lack of Funding for Representation Delays Georgia Death Penalty Cases

A Georgia judge has removed Kelvin Johnson’s public defenders from representing him in a death penalty case because his lawyers requested more time to prepare for trial. Johnson was being represented by attorneys from the Georgia Capital Defender Office, who said a delay was needed because an overwhelming caseload and lack of funding precluded them from going forward at this time. The Georgia Capital Defender program, which was started to provide better representation to indigent capital defendants, began representing those facing the death penalty in 2005, but saw its funding drop from $7 million to $4.5 million in only three years. Insufficient funding has led to problems and delays in several cases, including one instance in 2010 when attorneys asked the Georgia Supreme Court to dismiss the charges against their client or bar the state from seeking the death penalty because they could not pay expert witnesses, attorney fees or investigators. Superior Court Judge David Roper, who dismissed the capital defenders from the Kelvin Johnson case, plans to appoint lawyers of his own choosing, calling the Capital Defender Office “systemically broken.” However, W. Travis Sakrison, executive director of the Defender Office, said the delay needed in the Johnson case arose from special circumstances and was not due to “systemic” problems at the Georgia Capital Defender.

(K. Martin, “Judge’s decision brings to light problems in Georgia Capital Defender program,” Augusta Chronicle, July 14, 2012). See Representation and Costs.