On February 13, 2006, the Georgia Supreme Court issued the opinion in Johnson v. Smith (S06A122). The Court held that the record must indicate that the defendant was advised of his rights under Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238. Boykin holds that the Defendant must be advised of and waive his right three federal constitutional rights: 1) the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination; 2) the right to trial by jury; and 3) the right to confront ones accusers.
Johnson challenged the entry of his plea alleging that it was made not knowingly, voluntary and intelligently made. Once raised by the defendant, the burden is on the State to prove that it was knowing, voluntary and intelligently made. And examination of the plea transcript revealed only that one of those three rights was waived on the record. His trial counsel testifed at the habeas hearing that he had gone over the “legal rights” with his client. Based on that the habeas court denied Johnson’s claim. The Supreme Court took the case on a certificate of probable cause and reversed the habeas court. They said the since the record did not indicate what “legal rights” his counsel advised him of, that was not sufficent to establish that a valid plea had been entered.
This is a good case to illustrate just how important it is to perfect a record. This was no crackpipe case. It was a Murder and Armed Robbery case where the defendant got 3 consecutive life sentences for the shooting death of a store clerk in Houston County. Mr. Johnson has been serving that sentence since 1984. I understand that the District Attorney’s office is deciding whether or not to try this case. Mr. Johnson represented himself before the Georgia Supreme Court.