High court rules Daker has right to legal access
by Rachel Gray
February 25, 2014 04:00 AM | 3629 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Convicted murderer Waseem Daker looks over to Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans, as he tries to enter evidence in his defense for a new trial in Oct. 2013 before Superior Court Judge Mary Staley in Marietta. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday inmates have a constitutional right to legal access.
<br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Convicted murderer Waseem Daker looks over to Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans, as he tries to enter evidence in his defense for a new trial in Oct. 2013 before Superior Court Judge Mary Staley in Marietta. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday inmates have a constitutional right to legal access.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
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MARIETTA — The most recent court case of a convicted killer from Cobb has the Georgia Supreme Court underscoring the rights of prison inmates to access law libraries and seek help in legal filings.

In September 2012, Waseem Daker was convicted by a Cobb County jury in the 1995 stabbing and strangling death of Karmen Smith, a Delta flight attendant.

Daker was also convicted of stabbing her 5-year-old son multiple times. Nickolas Smith, who survived and is now in his early 20s, testified at

Daker’s trial.

Sentenced to life plus 47.5 years in prison, Daker is incarcerated in the “Special Management Unit” of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Butts County.

According to summaries of opinions by the Georgia Supreme Court published Monday, while serving his sentence at state prison in Jackson, Daker complained several times to prison officials that he has no access to a law library or legal materials.

On Jan. 10, 2013, Daker tried to file a petition for a “writ of mandamus” in Butts County Superior Court to force then Warden Carl Humphrey to provide access to a law library.

A writ of mandamus issued from a court commands a particular act that is required by law to be completed by another agency.

Chief Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson, from the Towaliga Judicial Circuit in Forsyth, ruled the mandamus petition was frivolous and ordered the court clerk not to allow its filing, according to the Georgia Supreme Court summary document.

Superior Court upholds constitutional rights

Daker next filed an application with the Georgia Supreme Court to review the case. The high court ruled the lower court’s decision was wrong and the filing for mandamus must be allowed.

“Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts,” Justice Robert Benham writes for the Georgia Supreme Court in the summary released Monday.

The right of access “requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law,” Benham said.

Since his conviction, Daker has filed a motion requesting a new trial, which was denied at the end of October by Cobb Superior Court Judge Mary Staley.

During each case, Daker has been representing himself. He initially filed motions from his cell in the Cobb County jail prior to his conviction.

Cobb County Jail Commander Don Bartlett said the Cobb jail library, which includes books on county, state and federal codes, has been open since he began working there more than 30 years ago.

Bartlett said Daker was housed at the Cobb jail for years awaiting trial dates in Cobb.

“He is very adept at using a law library,” Bartlett said.

Access to legal information

The process to obtain legal information at the Cobb jail starts with the inmate giving a request to the law librarian, who Bartlett said is a paralegal with a law degree.

The librarian, who has access to Westlaw, an online legal research service, researches the subject matter and sends the materials to the inmate’s cell. The inmate can then request more information if needed, Bartlett said.

“We try to provide meaningful access, reasonable access,” Bartlett said, but the access is not to be used as an excuse to venture out of the cell block. “You don’t want it to turn into a field trip.”

Bartlett said anytime inmates are moved out of a cellblock, there is a safety concern, and in the past, there have been fights in the library.

Bartlett said Cobb provides legal aid and access to court-appointed attorneys.

Still, there are situations where the inmate is representing his or herself, both in criminal and civil cases that may not even relate to the reason the suspect is in jail.

Bartlett said inmates who represent themselves have “a fool for a client,” and an attorney would take their case through the court system quicker.

“These people are not qualified to represent themselves,” Bartlett said.

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