No decision reached in Ryan Duke trial appeal to the GA Supreme Court

Supreme court has four to five months to decide on funding issue appeal
Ryan Duke in court in 2018 (WALB)
Ryan Duke in court in 2018 (WALB)
Published: May. 7, 2019 at 5:12 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, GA (WALB) - The Georgia Supreme Court heard an appeal in the case of the man accused in the 2005 death of Tara Grinstead, an Irwin County teacher and beauty queen, but no decision was reached in the hearing.

Ryan Duke’s attorneys argued about who is going to pay for expert witnesses and an investigator.

Under the Constitution, the court has two terms, which is four to six months, to make a decision. If no decision is made by then, whatever decision is made by the trial court will stand.

Duke’s defense attorneys fought for state funds to cover expert witnesses and investigators expenses in the case. Prosecutors said since Judge Bill Reinhardt previously denied this and a certificate of immediate review requested back in March, the Supreme Court may not be able to hear this appeal until that certificate is looked at again in lower courts.

In most cases, when a case is not final it requires the trial court to certify the issue for review before the Supreme Court can exercise power.

This led justices to question if this funding issue should be sorted out in lower courts before their involvement.

“Is it too late for the parties to sit down with the trial judge and ask the trial judge to consider vacating his order and re-entering it and then maybe entering a certificate for immediate review to get this issue definitive resolved before trial?” Justice Keith Blackwell said.

Prosecutors said Reinhardt, the trial court judge, denied the defense’s motions and a certificate of immediate review for the funding issue back in March.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the underlining offenses that Mr. Duke has been charged," Evan Gibbs, Duke’s attorney, said. "It solely relates to the manner in which he’s able to present a defense at trial because of funding.”

The hearing ended at 10:53 a.m.

WATCH: We are live at the Georgia Supreme Court. The court will hear an appeal from Duke's attorneys about who is going to pay for expert witnesses and an investigator. MORE >>

Posted by WALB News 10 on Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Ordinarily, if he were represented by a public defender, he would have access to the public defender’s budget they get every year for this type of expense. But because he has accepted the services of pro bono counsel, the state argues he has waived his access to that.

Atlanta-based attorney and legal analyst Philip Holloway calls this a loophole.

Philip Holloway, Attorney and Legal Analyst (Source: Philip Holloway)
Philip Holloway, Attorney and Legal Analyst (Source: Philip Holloway)

“There are certain jurisdictions in Georgia that do not have public defenders," he said. “There’s certain jurisdictions that have opted out of it. And the legislature has let them. And in those jurisdictions private counsel would be appointed.”

The Constitution only looks at someone’s indigency, Holloway pointed out, and they are entitled to accept the counsel services of their choosing.

“And if private counsel needs funds like Mr. Duke says he does then ordinarily judges would simply sign an order in the ordinary course of routine business and the indigent defendants would have access to it,” Holloway said. "But you have other jurisdictions such as the Tifton circuit that does have a public defender.”

The question becomes what is someone supposed to do when they remain indigent and they remain entitled to state money, but the state is not willing to fund their defense.

“Years ago when the public defender’s system was set up statewide nobody had contemplated the idea that an indigent person might use counsel, even if it’s pro bono counsel, and still need state money,” Holloway said.

The way it’s playing out is that he’s accepting the services of private counsel, but he’s being denied the access that someone in a metro Atlanta county would normally get.

“Everybody agrees that he doesn’t have the money to pay for his lawyer," Holloway said. "And everybody seems to agree that he doesn’t have the financial ability to provide those lawyers with the tools they need, in other words, expert witnesses and investigators. The big disagreement is who’s going to pay for it.”

If the road remains open then the issues about indigent funding move forward.

If this ground is shut down then this defense is going to have to rely on another type of appellate jurisdiction to get relief from the Supreme Court.

Holloway believes this appeal could take days, weeks, if not months for the court to issue an opinion since it will set the precedent for Duke's case and all future cases.

He also thinks Duke’s trial will not begin until next year.

Duke was charged with one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of burglary and one count of concealing a death.

His trial was originally scheduled for the first week of April, but was delayed after the high court agreed to hear this appeal.

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