Georgia Criminal Defense Blog

When Georgia Prosecutors Act Unethically – Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson

Posted by Richard Lawson | Jul 16, 2020 | 0 Comments

As reported in the AJC and many other news outlets, the Glynn County District Attorney's Office is fighting against a motion for a new trial in the Dennis Perry case.

A DA's office fighting a defense motion is nothing out of the ordinary.  We have an adversarial legal system in the United States.  The State is represented by the district attorney and the defense is represented by a criminal defense attorney.

The duty of a Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney is clear, to zealously represent the client and to act in the client's best interest.  The duty of a prosecutor is different.  A prosecutor has a duty to seek justice, not to win cases.  Sometimes, prosecutors lose sight of their duty and focus on winning cases.  This myopathy can lead to injustice, as we are potentially seeing in the Dennis Perry case.

After being convicted of murder, Dennis Perry agreed not to appeal his case if the death penalty was taken off the table.  Now, new DNA evidence seems to indicate that he may potentially be innocent.

Some may argue that Mr. Perry would not have waived his appellate rights if he was innocent.  This is a naïve argument.  He was facing the prospect of being put to death by the same jury who had just convicted him, and the jury had been “death penalty qualified.”

Death Penalty Qualified?

What in the world does it mean to be death penalty qualified?  In Georgia, when a prosecutor elects to seek the death penalty, the jury selection process (voir dire) changes.  The jurors are specifically asked if they could impose the death penalty in the event of a conviction and in the event and special circumstances are established beyond a reasonable doubt.  Jurors who are opposed to the death penalty (like I would be) are automatically eliminated from the jury pool.

What is clear to many people is that “death penalty qualified” jurors are far more likely to convict in the first place, due to their belief in law and order.  And these same jurors would have then decided Dennis Perry's fate during the penalty phase of his trial.

So, he made a rational decision.  He made a decision that many Georgia Criminal Defense Attorneys may have advised him.  He agreed to waive his right to appeal versus allowing the same jury to decide whether he should be put to death.

Flash forward 35 years later, and now new DNA evidence appears to call into question Mr. Perry's conviction. Most people would assume that District Attorney Jackie Johnson's office would agree to allow that evidence to be heard in court.  However, those naïve people do not know District Attorney Jackie Johnson. 

Jackie Johnson's office has argued in court against the motion to hear the new evidence.  Her position is that the evidence cannot even be heard because of the agreement not to seek an appeal 35 years ago. 

Who is Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson?

She is the same prosecutor who has been accused of covering up the Ahmaud Arbery case because one of the suspects once worked in her office.  In this case, her office is arguing that because Dennis Perry agreed not to seek an appeal, this new DNA evidence in his case should not even be heard in court. 

So, even if this man is innocent, the fact that he agreed not to appeal (to avoid being put to death) should prevent new evidence from being heard in his case.  If you are reading this blog, please read that sentence two more times.

Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson is a disgrace.  The State Bar of Georgia should disbar her.  She has lost her way. She may not have ever had it in the first place.  Georgia ethical rules are clear in this situation Ms. Johnson.  You have a duty to seek justice, not to win and keep someone in jail.

More than our ethical rules, you have a duty as a human being.  You are a complete and total disgrace as a person.  You disgust me.

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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