Georgia criminal case reversals focus on need for reform

Georgia criminal case reversals focus on need for reform

By Bobby Wolf – Consider this: The Georgia Supreme Court, which hears all murder appeals, reversed 25 percent of its murder cases from 2014 to 2016 compared to 11 percent in 1996.  Some reversed cases, like those involving exonerated AJC Breakdown murderer Justin Chapman and twice-convicted Dunwoody daycare murderer Hemy Neuman, have garnered media attention and community interest.  Other cases in the news today, like the Ross Harris hot baby trial, will face scrutiny on appeal in the months and years to come. A review of recent murder cases shows how much needs to improve in criminal courtrooms across Georgia.  No common thread connects the mistakes except the opportunity to learn from them and not repeat them.  Only when the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney do their jobs well does the criminal justice system work.  Only when the criminal justice system works well are its results trusted and accepted by the public. Why is it so important that we get the trial right the first time?  Murder reversals profoundly impact the lives of defendants and victims’ families, as well as the community’s confidence in the criminal justice system and the Rule of Law.  If a case has to be retried, the families of the victim and the defendant must live through the agony and uncertainty of a second trial despite the first trial’s promise of finality and closure. Let’s review cases for common themes and lessons from mistakes attributed to prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys alike. Sometimes, prosecutors make mistakes.  Respected AJC legal affairs writer Bill Rankin chronicled the Justin Chapman case through his serial podcast Breakdown.  In 2006,...