Ryan Locke argues in the Supreme Court of Georgia

Ryan Locke recently argued in the Supreme Court of Georgia that a prosecutor made an illegal comment during closing argument. His client, Jonathan Kilgore, who was represented by the public defender at trial, was convicted of felony murder and other crimes in 2012 for his alleged role in a drug house robbery gone bad. During closing argument, the prosecutor argued that Mr. Kilgore was a co-conspirator in the robbery because "otherwise they would be able to say something else." The state and federal constitutions prohibit this type of comment, which holds Mr. Kilgore's silence against him and shifts the burden to him to prove his innocence. The Supreme Court of Georgia heard oral argument on this issue on October 3, 2016 and we expect the court to issue an opinion in the coming months.

Ryan Locke will join Emory Law faculty for annual trial techniques advocacy program

Ryan Locke of Locke Law Firm LLC will join the 2016 faculty of Emory University School of Law’s Kessler-Eidson Trial Techniques Program to be held April 30 through May 6.

Locke joins an elite group of more than 120 jurists, practitioners, and legal scholars from across the United States and foreign jurisdictions, including Mexico, to teach in the prominent program which, over the course of three decades, has launched some of the nation’s leading trial lawyers and judges.

“We are very selective in choosing faculty,” said Emory Law professor, and Emory Law Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution director, Paul Zwier. “The group of faculty that will convene in Atlanta this year includes people who are at the top of their game – and who also have the teaching skills to train the next generation of trial advocates.” 

When founded in 1982, the program was modeled after the National Institute for Trial Advocacy's program for teaching practicing lawyers. Emory Law's program is the largest in the country and is recognized as one of the nation's finest. The American College of Trial Lawyers has twice conferred on Emory's program the Emil Gumpert Award for excellence in the teaching of trial advocacy. 

“Emory Law has been one of the nation’s leading producer of trial lawyers, and this program – along with our course offerings in advocacy – is a big part of that,” said Zwier.       

The program's teaching methodology focuses on integrating the second-year law student's knowledge of substantive evidence with practical trial skills through a "learn-by-doing" format. Trial experience is supplemented by a textbook, lectures, and discussions. During two sessions in the spring semester, students develop theories for particular witness examinations, decide on appropriate approaches to bring out the facts consistent with their theories, prepare witnesses, and conduct direct and cross-examinations using current courtroom technology in the use of exhibits. This is followed by an seven-day intensive learn-by-doing class in which participants will engage in a “Daubert” hearing to determine whether an expert witness will testify at trial. Two days later, students will conduct a jury trial with high school students from the Atlanta area serving as jurors. By the end of eight days, more than 290 students will have collectively tried more than 70 jury trials and participated in more than 70 Daubert hearings.

Founded in 1916, Emory University School of Law is an American Bar Association (ABA) nationally accredited law school. Consistently ranked as one of the premier law schools in the United States, Emory Law offers exceptional doctrinal and practical legal education with signature programs in advocacy, transactional law, technology and IP law, law and religion, and vulnerability studies.

 

Can I ask for a trial on a dead docket case?

Yes, but why would you want to?

When a case is placed on the dead docket, the State rarely intends to bring it to trial. It's a way for prosecutors to get rid of cases they don't want to try, but also don't want to dismiss.

It may be that you want a trial to prove that you're not guilty. Good luck--there's always a risk that the jury will convict you when you go to trial. If that risk is acceptable and it's important for you to beat the charges publicly, then you can revive your case and demand that it go to trial.

If you don't really want a trial but the open case is preventing you from getting hired, then you have two options. First, you can ask the State to nolle pros the case. There's a time period in which they can refile a case form a nolle pros, but the case will show as closed on a background check.

Second, after your case has been on the dead docket for 12 months, you can apply for a record restriction and the case will come off your record, even though it's technically still open.

 

The judge never told me that pleading guilty could affect my immigration status!

I get contacted a lot by immigrants who pleaded guilty to minor crimes but then are surprised by the immigration consequences. For example,

I went to court in Georgia. I am a permanent resident. I plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of shoplifting and judge let me do it under a first offender plea. She asked me if I was a US citizen and I told her no. I was reading that you can ask for charge to be taken off if the judge never advised you that by pleading guilty and not being a US citizen can affect your immigration status. Cases that went in front of me the judge told them that for the ones that were not citizens and plead guilty.

This person decided to take care of her very minor shoplifting plea without a lawyer, and now is at risk of losing her green card and being deported.

Even worse, she cannot have her plea set aside under Padilla, and there is limited Georgia law in her favor.

The best thing to do in this situation is to hire a lawyer ASAP to try and have the plea set aside. There are strict time limits to when a plea can be withdrawn as a matter of right, and after that it largely depends on the grace of the prosecutor and the judge.

In marijuana cases does the State have to test the drugs? If they don't will the case be dismissed?

Surprisingly, the answer is no. The State does not have to test the drugs. Officers can testify based on their training and experience that what they seized was a drug, and the jury can believe them.

But without a lab test, things will probably be rough for the officer at trial. For example, I've had officers testify that they knew what they seized was marijuana from their knowledge and experience. However, most officers do not have any specialized training about drugs beyond what is taught at the Academy. The leaves many areas open for cross-examination.

For example, in a recent case I asked the officer if he was properly trained in the Fast Blue Regent, Duqoise Levine, and Hairy Systolic Fibers field tests, why those tests are important, and why he didn't do them. The officer didn't know what those were and he looked like he didn't know what he was doing.

I also asked about the technical definition of marijuana. In Georgia, marijuana has a very specific definition:

all parts of the plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not, the seeds thereof, the resin extracted from any part of such plant, and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds, or resin; but shall not include samples as described in subparagraph (P) of paragraph (3) of Code Section 16-13-25 and shall not include the completely defoliated mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil, or cake, or the completely sterilized samples of seeds of the plant which are incapable of germination.

O.C.G.A. Section 16-13-21(16). As you can see, you can possess parts of a marijuana plant but not possess the controlled substance marijuana. 

Another part of the law further narrows the definition of marijuana:

(3) Any material, compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any quantity of the following hallucinogenic substances, their salts, isomers (whether optical, position, or geometrics), and salts of isomers, unless specifically excepted, whenever the existence of these salts, isomers, and salts of isomers is possible within the specific chemical designation: ... (P) Tetrahydrocannabinols which shall include, but are not limited to: (i) All synthetic or naturally produced samples containing more than 15 percent by weight of tetrahydrocannabinols; and (ii) All synthetic or naturally produced tetrahydrocannabinol samples which do not contain plant material exhibiting the external morphological features of the plant cannabis.

O.C.G.A. Sectoin 16-13-25(3)(P). This section makes it much more difficult for the officer--you can possess what looks, smells, and feels like marijuana, but if more than 15% of its weight is tetrahydrocannabinols, then it is not marijuana. Obviously, you can't determine that without testing a sample at a lab.