The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday heard an appeal of a Hall County man who served 12 years in prison for statutory rape.
Delma Cecil Phagan, 62, was convicted in 1996 on charges of aggravated child molestation, sexual exploitation of a minor and statutory rape. The state Supreme Court later reversed all but the statutory rape conviction.
After serving seven years of his 15-year sentence, Phagan in 2003 filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus — a civil procedure that gives prisoners a chance to challenge the conviction in the county where they are imprisoned.
The writ was filed in Hancock County, where Phagan was being held, and was dismissed five years later for failure to pursue it.
Phagan, who by then was paroled, paid the costs to renew his petition in December 2008 in Hall County. In 2009, a judge denied the petition, saying he missed a deadline for filing it.
Phagan’s attorney argued his client had up to six months to file a new habeas petition after the first one was dismissed. Prosecutors argued that a change in the law in 2004 sets a specific deadline for filing the petition, which they say Phagan missed.
“Certainly, the legislative intent was to place a time limit on the ability of prisoners to challenge a conviction from the distant past,” prosecutors wrote in court briefs.
The high court will rule on the case at a later date.