Justices to hear case about Bibb man's life sentence

Georgia Supreme Court justices are scheduled to hear arguments today on whether a former Bibb County man’s life sentence should have been thrown out.

Between 1989 and 1994, Darion Barker pleaded guilty three times to charges ranging from possession of cocaine and marijuana to theft by taking. His sentences ranged from 60 days in prison to six years, according to a case overview from the court.

Then in 1996, he was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and obstruction of an officer. A jury convicted him, and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole because he was a repeat felon.

In 1997, a court of appeals upheld his convictions and sentences. Eleven years later, though, Barker filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, challenging his imprisonment. A county judge set aside his 1993 and 1994 convictions and declared that his 1996 life sentence was invalid.

The judge found that Barker had not entered his guilty pleas “intelligently or voluntarily,” as required by the U.S. Supreme Court. Also, the court ruled that based on state law, Barker’s sentence as a repeat felon was illegal because it was based on constitutionally invalid prior convictions.

The state is appealing to the Georgia Supreme Court

Here’s a summary of what today’s arguments will entail, according to the case overview:

The state contends that the county judge was wrong in determining that the 1993 and 1994 guilty pleas were invalid. Although no transcript was found for the 1993 plea and the transcript for the 1994 plea included no notification to Barker that he was waiving his right against self-incrimination, testimony from attorneys who represented him showed that Barker had been advised of that right. The state also contends that Barker should have raised his claims earlier.

Barker’s attorneys contend that he should be resentenced for his 1996 convictions without the use of the prior pleas. Barker has already served 14 years, they said, and that stint is a “manifest injustice” that is years longer than what some violent offenders serve.

The state, the lawyers say, also failed to prove that Barker entered his guilty pleas voluntarily.