ATLANTA -- The final oral arguments of Supreme Court Chief Justice George Carley’s 33 years on the bench left the state’s highest court Tuesday grappling with how much privacy prisoners can expect when discussing medical issues.
Carley’s swansong case involves the 2000 murder in Athens of Herbert Ramond Smith and Torrance Demond “Inky” Dunn’s conviction for it. Dunn is serving a life sentence in Washington State Prison.
At the heart of Dunn’s appeal to the top court is whether the jury should have heard testimony from a nurse who treated him after he was booked in the Clarke County jail. He told her the injury was caused by a gunshot wound in lucid, coherent terms.
Despite a deputy sheriff being present and hearing the comments, his appeals lawyer said he has a right to privacy regarding medical matters.
“Even though you’re under arrest, you don’t automatically give up your right to privacy,” said Dunn’s appellate attorney Elizabeth Grant.
District Attorney Ken Mauldin sees it differently.
“I would suggest when you go into a jail, there isn’t that expectation of privacy,” he told the seven justices.
Grant said the issue was critical to Dunn’s defense and that his trial lawyer would have changed strategy if he had known the nurse would be allowed to testify. Dunn’s defense during the trial was that someone else shot Smith six times and fled before a deputy arrived at the scene of the accident caused when the car Smith was driving collided with a guardrail. The first deputy on the scene saw Dunn, sitting in the front passenger seat, hitting the body, and he never mentioned another person was the shooter at the time.
Dunn’s attorney told the jury the behavior was due to an internal head injury which also caused him not to report the true killer.
The justices had plenty of questions for Grant about what court precedents she was relying on and her legal reasoning. When Mauldin’s turn came, they only asked two, both about having a deputy present during treatment.
Carley didn’t ask any questions even though one of his most significant impacts on the court was to spur his colleagues to actively quiz lawyers and debate theories during oral arguments. Justices rarely spoke when he first joined the court. However, he did open Tuesday’s preceding by saying he still gets a thrill out of walking into the courtroom.
He also started a practice that could become another legacy. At the end of each case’s arguments during his two months as chief justice, he invited the attorneys to walk along the bench and shake hands with each of the justices to foster the collegiality that’s common in lower courts.
Carley is retiring this month. Gov. Nathan Deal has appointed Court of Appeals Judge Keith R. Blackwell as his replacement for the balance of his term.
Carley served on the Appeals Court and became its presiding judge and chief judge. Several of that court’s judges attended the arguments in the final case as a tribute.
Carley is the only Georgian to serve as presiding judge and chief judge in both of the state’s appeals courts. And he is one of the few justices to have also served in the legislature.