John A. Steakely

Attorney John Steakley is a 1996 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law. He began his career as the Special Prosecutor for Drug Crimes for a multi-county, multi-agency drug task force in Tennessee, where he represented the State of Tennessee in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases in a 5-county judicial district.

Georgia General Assembly Awards Wrongfully Convicted Man $400,000

The Georgia Legislature has quietly awared wrongfully convicted Lathan Rydell Word a total of $400,000 for his eleven years spent in prison for a crime he didn't commit:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED AND ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF GEORGIA that the Department of Administrative Services is authorized and directed to pay the sum of $400,000.00 to Mr. Lathan Rydell Word as compensation as provided above. Said sum shall be paid from funds appropriated to or available to the Department of Administrative Services and shall be in full and complete satisfaction of all claims against the state arising out of said occurrence. Said sum shall not be subject to state income taxes and shall be paid in the form of an annuity over a 20 year period with an initial lump sum payment of $100,000.00 and monthly payments thereafter. None of the funds provided by this resolution shall be used to pay attorney's fees if such fees are calculated on a contingency fee basis.

Mr. Word was wrongfully convicted of an Armed Robbery and sentenced to fifteen years in prison just as he was about to join the USMC.  After winning a new trial, he refused to plea guilty to time served and demanded a new trial, in which he was acquitted. 

I wish these things would get more publicity.  Out of a jury pool of 50, I will typically get at least 5 people willing to admit that they think anyone in court charged with a crime must be guilty of something.  They naively believe that there are filters in place to prevent innocent people from getting to trial, and that their job as jurors is little more than to rubber-stamp the indictment.  It is that sort of thinking that costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars down the line with the innocent person finally wins their freedom.  Jurors ARE the filter, and more of them need to realize it.

Note how the bill prohibits any of the award from being used to pay attorney fees.  By doing so, the legislature protects itself.  By prohibiting attorney fees, the legislation eliminates the financial incentive for attorneys to take these kinds of cases, which reduces the number of times the legislature has to deal with it, and makes it more difficult for people like Mr. Word to get the legal assistance he needs. 

The entire bill, including details about Mr. Word's case, can be found here.

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