The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of the author and not those of TheGeorgiaVirtue.com.
This week, I learned that one of the individuals who was imprisoned in Bulloch County for nearly two years before being tried and acquitted by a jury…committed suicide.
The details of who, why, and so on will emerge when the time is right and the time is not. Unfortunately, in most places, it would be easy for any of you to determine “who” by elimination. But in the Ogeechee court circuit under District Attorney Daphne Totten, the scenario is all too common. That’s why we’re talking about it again.
This week’s news has made me sad, angry and more motivated to advocate for change. The moment a man reached the end of his rope was preceded by a series of events which not only have arrive, but never should have past. An arrest before the end of the investigation, multiple denials of bail requests, a jury trial that turned up no real evidence, and a stigma that lasts a lifetime. Or would have if he was still around.
I’m not a lawyer, but I worked at a law firm in Cobb County before moving here. I worked in the Legislative Assembly for nine legislative sessions and saw the influential voice whenever legislators were considering something to do with the criminal justice system. And in the last year and a half, I’ve covered 13 jury trials, one bench trial, and enough pre-trial motions to make your head spin. All I can say is that you learn a lot by watching and I wish more people had the opportunity to do so.
What I have learned, however, is that the way we operate in this judicial circuit is destroying people’s lives. Unlike what you see on TV, this isn’t an assembly line of tossing the book on the most violent offenders on the circuit. The whole operation is on fire right now.
The district attorney’s office has apparently taken the position that it must prosecute every case that comes its way, regardless of the facts. The office also opposes bail for almost all defendants, regardless of the circumstances and charges. In doing so, he has put the office in a position to present cases to the grand jury when some of the facts are still unknown, because under state law defendants are entitled to bail after 90 days if there is no there is no indictment.
If you follow, that means the prosecutor’s office is advocating holding people without bail when they don’t even know all the information, but presenting the case for formal prosecution because they need to buy time to collect more information. information. However, looking at the bureau’s track record for almost the first half of its first term, it doesn’t appear that the bureau ever collects this other information.
In twenty months, the office has:
- Putting a victim of domestic violence in jail for defending herself against her attacker.
- If that’s not enough, the woman was acquitted of Felony Murder and when the jury returned an inconsistent verdict, the DA’s office asked for the maximum for the main offense.
- Attempted to prosecute a soldier for defending his life against a three-time convicted felon he believed was using his vehicle as a weapon.
- The district attorney’s office argued against bail for 106 days and at three different hearings before Trooper’s release and, despite 8 hours of presentation before a grand jury, received an indictment without an indictment. After 15 months, she still hasn’t said publicly whether or not she will try to pursue the case again or close it for good.
- Held back to close another officer-involved shooting case from 2021, in which soldiers, deputies and three elected sheriffs were involved in a four-county pursuit for a man who kidnapped a woman under the threat of a gun and fled.
- Lost five sexual assault cases, costing acquitted defendants a combined 3,216 days in jail (with a price tag of $144,720 in jail costs)
- Tried four defendants in a criminal drug case for possession of the exact same marijuana and a single firearm.
- Three of the defendants were acquitted, but two of them spent more than a year in prison waiting.
- Technically lost Marcus Wilson’s high-profile case as the accelerator was charged with murder and aggravated assault for more than two years and a jury found not guilty on each of those counts.
- Opposed Grant Spencer’s re-sentencing as a “young offender” to allow him access to more vocational and educational programs while incarcerated without affecting his release date.
- Lost a lawsuit suing a man for hunting on someone else’s land.
- Lost a two-defendant murder trial in the shooting death of A’Nyah Davis.
- Lost a vehicular homicide trial in which Totten personally withdrew the case from state court to make it a felony, despite facts and law enforcement testimony supporting a misdemeanor charge
- Promised in open court to nolle prosse a co-defendant in a murder case because he was not the trigger man. When she lost her co-defendant’s case, she returned and personally sued the one she once admitted was not the trigger man.
- Jeopardized the Frank Davis Jr. murder case because, while all of the above cases were pending trial, the eyewitness (and key witness) to this 2020 murder died. Of course, the prosecutor’s office didn’t know about it for 10 months.
- Paved the way for an abuser to become a killer by again giving a man probation (for the third time) for his assaults on a loved one. He is now on trial for the murder of his girlfriend.
There are others, I assure you. The question, however, is how? How does a district attorney have such a deplorable record? when she gets to choose each case that advances?
The state did winning a murder trial in Bulloch County recently where the defendant represented himself and in Screven County there was a pedophilia case in which the state persevered. This, of course, came after a delay due to Brady’s violation by the state, followed by another delay during a goring in jury selection. In this case, the state did not disclose to the defense or the court that one of the pool jurors was the parent of child molestation victim in separate Screven County casewho was being sued by the same ADA.
And there were also some other “victories” for the state. Like the conviction of a man charged with the attempted murder of the Effingham County Sheriff’s Deputy and the multi-victim rape case in Rincon. I attribute these victories to the autonomy of the ADAs there since Daphne Totten is not usually present. Autonomy of course has a price. One of the ADAs shot himself in his office while showing his gun to another ADA. The district attorney’s office didn’t even conduct its own investigation or detail the incident in a personnel file.
But most of her ADAs have battle wounds because she sends them to war with bad facts and no ammo. Worse still, Totten has only tried (or been in the courtroom) for two of the cases listed above. Marcus Wilson’s trial makes it three and while she was second president during that trial, the only words we heard her say were at the press conference after the verdict. Why?
I’m afraid what two more years means for District Attorney Daphne Totten for the four counties in our circuit. So far, lives have been ruined – and lost – livelihoods have been destroyed, victims of crime are regularly re-victimized, and the taxpayers are responsible for it all…plus a salary, benefits and vehicle of work.
I would love nothing more than to stop writing about the antics of the district attorney’s office because, unlike the city government gambling with SPLOST dollars or the county government ripe with nepotism, prosecutors have the ability to impact all facets of people’s lives. When they get it right, justice is undoubtedly served. When they’re wrong, the impacts are devastating and long-lasting. You’d think that at some point Ms. Totten would take that into consideration.
But until she does, we stand by everyone who has been harmed by her misdeeds.