Decatur lawyer: Recent state Supreme Court ruling counsels lawyers to look beyond indictment
6:16 pm, December 17th, 2012
Decatur criminal lawyer and blogger J. Scott Key has written up an interesting death penalty decision issued by the Georgia Supreme Court last month.
The unanimous decision reversed a death sentence handed down in DeKalb County in 2008. The court said a DeKalb judge was wrong to forbid lawyers for defendant Clayton Jerrod Ellington, on trial for the murder of his wife and their twin two-year-old sons, from asking all prospective jurors whether they could consider a life sentence in a case involving the murder of young children. Prosecutors said that impartiality questions relating to facts not set forth in the indictment were improper, but the Supreme Court said that as soon as the jury was empaneled and the trial began, the age of the victims became a focus of the state’s argument that Ellington should be sentenced to death.
The takeaway, says Key, who filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, is to look beyond the indictment in preparing to try a case.
As you prepare for voir dire, consider what things about your case could be a problem for certain jurors. Then craft questions designed to find out who those jurors are. Anticipate that opposing counsel will object and say that you are asking jurors to prejudge facts. Prepare your response using the language in Ellington. And keep in mind that a case is often about much more than the language contained in the indictment.