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Georgia: Mandamus Available to Compel Law Library Access

Georgia: Mandamus Available to Compel Law Library Access

by David Reutter

he Georgia Supreme Court held in February 2014 that a trial court erred in denying the filing of a prisoner’s petition for mandamus seeking access to a law library.

After being sentenced to life plus a term of years, Waseem Daker was housed in the Special Management Unit at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison. He moved for a new trial following his conviction and stated his intention to seek a direct appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. However, his repeated requests to prison officials for access to a law library were fruitless.

Daker moved to compel the warden to grant him law library access by filing a petition for writ of mandamus accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. The following month, the trial court ordered the clerk to prohibit the filing of the petition after concluding it was facially frivolous. The in forma pauperis motion also was denied.

The Georgia Supreme Court granted Daker’s application for discretionary review, and examined his right of access to the courts based in large part on Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977).

Bounds held that access to the courts “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.” Any restrictions on that right must be “clearly warranted by the particular circumstances of each case.”

The Supreme Court held that “A trial court may deny filing of a civil action such as a petition for a writ of mandamus if the pleading on its face shows a complete absence of any justiciable issue of law or fact such that the court could not grant any relief.” The Court could not say that situation existed in Daker’s case, as he had “several matters pending in the courts” and alleged he was not allowed access to a law library.

The Supreme Court noted that was a serious claim requiring careful consideration by the trial court, and held the fact that Daker was able to file various pleadings did not render his allegations of lack of access to the courts superfluous or frivolous. “For example,” the Court wrote, “the right to access also includes a post-filing opportunity to research and formulate rebuttals to authorities cited in the responsive pleadings of the adversary.”

The trial court’s order was reversed with instructions to allow the filing of Daker’s mandamus petition and to reconsider his motion to proceed in forma pauperis. See: Daker v. Humphrey, 294 Ga. 504, 755 S.E.2d 201 (Ga. 2014).


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Related legal case

Daker v. Humphrey