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Has funding shortage tainted Pike County death penalty prosecution?
Is a funding shortage for public defenders sufficient to toss a death penalty prosecution? The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments on that question today.
Jamie Ryan Weis, accused in February 2006 of beating and killing Catherine King in her Pike County home, contends a state funding shortage has denied him a proper defense.
Weis’s attorneys argue his indictment should be set aside because he was denied a speedy trial. Attorneys Thomas West and Robert Citronberg initially agreed to represent Weis, but asked for a continuance in March 2007 when the state Public Defender Standards Council said it could not afford to keep paying them. The lawyers, on a motion by prosecutors, were later replaced by two local public defenders.
The local public defenders assigned to Weis’s case said they had a crushing workload and their investigators had no experience in investigating a defendant’s background for mitigating circumstances that might become crucial in a capital case. Weis’s brief filed with the Supreme Court argues:
“Georgia may decide to devote its resources to the prosecution and defense of capital cases, or to other government functions. However, it may not devote resources to the prosecution of capital cases while withholding resources for the defense of those cases. It is most respectfully submitted that this Court in granting relief in this case should make it clear that this one-sided practice — so completely at odds with due process and basic principles of fairness — must come to an end at once.”
District Attorney Scott Ballard argues that West and Citronberg’s workload — each was handling several death penalty cases — created conflicts and pre-trial delays in Weis’s case. He says Weis’s defense strategy, not funding issues, caused the lengthy delays:
Since March 2007, Appellant has filed nine motions for continuances, seeking to delay the trial for an indeterminate period of time. He also has filed motions to recuse the trial judge and even sued him directly. All of these actions constituted the primary reasons for the more than three year delay between Appellant’s arrest and the filing of this appeal. While the State has a responsibility and obligation to ensure the swift disposition of criminal matters, the delay in this case cannot be attributed primarily to the actions of the State.
Any negative weight from this factor towards the State must be slight at best. However, based on the actions of Appellant and his counsel in terms of refusing to assist his counsel, their inability to attend scheduled court hearings, and their demand for a continuance without an end date, this factor should be weighed against Appellant.
Arguments are scheduled for 10 a.m. today.