Monday, February 27, 2006

Virginia Law - Guilty Unless Proven Innocent for Indigents

Virginia Law - Guilty Unless Proven Innocent for Indigents

The blind hand of justice in Virginia is only for those who can afford costly bifocals; if you should ever face serious criminal charges, you better get a good lawyer and have at least $10,000-$15,000 laying around. Otherwise, you're at the mercy of a tough-on-crime mentality prosecutor who might have eyes on higher office with your scalp as the admission ticket

Remember James Gilmore? No, well how about Jerry Kilgore?!? All from the good-old boys network of lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key.

This morning The Roanoke Times illustrates why indigent defendants find little due process in the courts.

Virginia ranks 50th in compensation for court-appointed attorneys. Virginia is the only state in the country with unwaiveable caps on fees paid court-appointed lawyers. This means that no matter how many hours the court-appointed attorney spends on a case, he will receive not one dollar more than the cap allows.

Virginia pays court-appointed lawyers $1,186 to represent a client who faces
20 years to life in prison, even if there's a full-fledged trial. The maximum
payment for less-serious felonies is $428.

In other words, there is justice of the O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow and Susan Cummings variety, and then there are the thousands of poor saps who "wal[k] into court charged with a crime that could result in the loss of liberty for life [and] the only one standing beside [them] for the truth, painstakingly gleaned through the adversarial process, is a lawyer -- paid $1,186 -- or an equally poorly paid public defender."

Seems fair to me, how about you...?

In the House and Senate, bills to "address, in varying degrees, this deplorable situation" were introduced by Dels. David Albo, Terry Kilgore, Lacey Putney and Vincent Callahan Jr. and Sens. Kenneth Stolle and Frederick Quayle, all Republicans save for Putney who is an Independent but caucuses with Republicans.

What a welcome sign that legislators are ready to address the shameful way indigents are defended in Virginia.

Graciously, Times links story to the Virginia Indigent Defense Coalition, a nonprofit organization that campaigns to "fulfill the unkept promises of Gideon v. Wainwright and the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

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