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Monday, November 7, 2011 - 1:41am

Speedy Trial, Assisted Suicide Cases Before Court

A death penalty defendant who has been awaiting trial for a Gwinnett County killing since March 2005 is asking Georgia's top court to dismiss all charges for violations of his right to a speedy trial for the second time in less than two years.

Khahn Dinh Phan is asking the Georgia Supreme Court to dismiss his charges because he said the state has "chronically underfunded" the death penalty defense system.

Phan was accused of the December 2004 shootings of a Vietnamese couple and their 2-year-old son. The father and son died, while the wife suffered severe injuries.

Phan was appointed two public defenders, but the case lagged amid a funding delay. Prosecutors say Phan brought the delays upon himself.

Georgia's top court will also consider a free-speech challenge to the state's law against assisted suicide brought by four members of a suicide group charged with helping a cancer-stricken man kill himself.

The court will consider whether to overturn a Forsyth County judge's decision that free speech isn't limited by the law, which makes it a felony for anyone who publicly advertises to assist someone else in the act of suicide.

The four claimed it violated their free speech rights because instead of criminalizing suicide or assisted suicide, it bans people from publicly speaking about assisted suicide and then participating in the death.

But prosecutors argued the statute was drafted to discourage assisted suicide, even if that wasn't spelled out in the law.