TIFTON, Ga. (WALB) - Tift Judicial Circuit Judge Bill Reinhardt has ruled that the state does not have to provide additional money for Ryan Duke to hire outside investigators to assist his defense in the Tara Grinstead case, in which Duke is charged with murder and other offenses.
The judge wrote that the defendant is not allowed to “pick and choose which of the state-provided services he wishes to receive. He must accept the resources that are available.”
Duke is being represented pro bono by attorneys Ashleigh and John Merchant and Evan Gibbs, currently.
Judge Reinhardt issued his ruling on Friday, January 3.
The judge wrote that the 14th amendment does not require "the state to furnish all the assistance that a wealthier counterpart may buy, but to ensure that the indigent defendant enjoys the basic tools of an adequate defense,” citing legal precedent.
WALB hasn’t heard back from Duke’s attorneys yet.
WALB spoke with an attorney familiar with the case and about what might be the defense’s next steps.
Philip Holloway, an attorney and podcast host, said it’s possible that Duke’s defense team will appeal the judge’s latest decision to the state Supreme Court.
“I feel like that’s where it’s headed because the issue is pretty fairly squared up now," Holloway said.
Holloway said he disagrees with the judge’s decision because of the sixth amendment right to counsel.
“It requires that the counsel be effective. An attorney without the tools to do his or her job simply can’t be effective," Holloway said.
Holloway said the judge denied the request because Duke’s private, pro bono attorneys out of Atlanta are not public defenders.
However, court records show Duke requested that a public defender re-join his defense team back in March 2019.
The public defender’s office declined.
“To say that the state of Georgia is doing all that it can because it has created this public defender system, that’s not enough in this case. Especially when the public defender has dropped him effectively," Holloway said.
Meanwhile, Holloway said he expects Duke’s defense to appeal this decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Last summer, the Georgia Supreme Court denied a request by the defense to hear an appeal on a similar ruling by Reinhardt.
“The Supreme Court sent a message loud and clear to all parties involved, and I think to the trial judge, that you need to go ahead and grant this certificate of immediate review," said Holloway.
Holloway said if the Georgia Supreme Court hears the appeal before a trial starts, it could prevent a post-trial appeal by the defense if Duke is found guilty by a jury.
“Nobody wants to have an unconstitutional trial if they can help it. So, I think the wisest thing to do would be for Judge Reinhardt to allow the defense to take this to the Supreme Court, and I suspect that’s what he’s going to do this time," Holloway said.
He explained that it is possible Duke could go to trial in 2021 at the earliest.
No word yet from the court in Irwin County on when a trial could happen.