The Georgia Appellate Practice & Educational Resource Center (“Georgia Resource Center”) is a small 501(c)(3) non-profit law office providing free representation to poor people on Georgia’s death row in their state and federal habeas corpus proceedings, and in clemency proceedings before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The Georgia Resource Center was established in 1988 through a partnership with the State Bar of Georgia, the Georgia Supreme Court, the federal judiciary, and Georgia State University College of Law, to address the crisis in the lack of appellate representation for people on Georgia’s death row. Georgia is one of only two states that does not provide counsel for death row prisoners in post-conviction proceedings. (Alabama is the other state.) The Resource Center was created to provide attorneys – either through direct representation or recruiting and assisting volunteer counsel – for all of Georgia’s death row prisoners in habeas corpus proceedings. The Georgia Resource Center is the only organization in Georgia with this mandate. The Center advocates on behalf of every person on death row, following direct appeal through final resolution of their case. The Center’s work often results in the reversal of a client’s conviction or death sentence, but even when it does not, the Center fights tirelessly until the last minute to protect its clients’ rights. For many clients, the knowledge that someone is diligently representing them gives them hope as well as a sense of dignity they may never have known.
For more than three decades, the Center’s work has exposed major errors in death penalty trials, including deficient legal representation, prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination, and wrongful death sentencing of people with intellectual disability and severe mental illness. The United States Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the Center’s client Michael Nance, in Nance v. Ward (No. 21-439, June 23, 2022), which confirmed that people challenging their methods of execution could proceed in a federal civil rights action rather than in habeas, even when a state, like Georgia, does not currently authorize an alternative to the state’s execution method. Several years earlier, the Resource Center obtained another important Supreme Court victory in the case of Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188 (2018), which clarified how federal habeas courts, in Georgia and elsewhere, should review state court decisions. Beyond its own client representation, the Center’s advocacy has helped to improve the quality of trial level capital defense representation throughout the state.
Over its long history, the Center has represented, in one capacity or another, most of the people sentenced to death in Georgia in the modern period. For example, the Center represented Troy Davis for 16 years, conducting an exhaustive investigation which uncovered compelling evidence casting doubt on his guilt in the murder of Officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah. Then, in cooperation with the Washington, D.C., firm of Arnold & Porter, the Center represented Mr. Davis until his widely-condemned execution in September 2011. The Center has fought to prevent the executions of its clients until literally the last moments, including Vietnam War veteran Andrew Brannan; Warren Hill, a man who every expert agreed met the criteria for intellectual disability; and Joshua Bishop.
Art by Hannah White