Courts news

Lawyers argued before Georgia’s high court Wednesday whether a Floyd County man convicted of murder in 2001 should be able to challenge his conviction after new evidence of juror misconduct came to light.

A juror in the trial of Joey Watkins admitted in 2016 that she had changed her mind at the trial and decided to convict Watkins after conducting an independent test of cellphone evidence.

Up until that point, the jury had been deadlocked 10-2, in favor of convicting Watkins of the murder of Isaac Dawkins.

Attorneys for Watkins filed a civil petition in 2017 — referred to as a habeas corpus — to have his conviction overturned for several reasons, one of which was the new evidence of the juror’s actions.

The state argued Watkins’ filing should be dismissed on two grounds, one of which was that his attorneys hadn’t found the juror’s testimony after the trial.

Justice David Nahmias grilled Matthew Crowder from the Georgia Attorney General’s office regarding the state’s claim that the habeas should be dismissed for lack of due diligence.

Justices asked if there was any indication the juror had acted improperly until that very juror stepped forward with the information. They also delved into what would be considered an adequate measure of diligence to uncover juror misconduct.

“You’re converting a rule of what could be done into a rule of what should be done,” Nahmias said.

Other justices weighed in, asking questions about what the state would require as due diligence in any given case.

“You have to show us that any good lawyer would have done this,” Chief Justice Harold Melton told Crowder.

Also, justices asked attorneys for Watkins if the juror’s conduct constituted a constitutional violation, an important factor in a habeas petition.

Watkins’ attorney maintained it was a violation of his sixth amendment right to be able to confront witnesses against him. He also maintained the juror, once she gathered what he termed as her own evidence, essentially became a witness against Watkins.

The habeas was originally dismissed in Walker County — the county in which Watkins is incarcerated. That dismissal was appealed and the case ended up at the Georgia Supreme Court.

This isn’t the first time the Watkins case has been before the high court. However, so far all of his attempts to appeal or overturn his conviction have failed.

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