The Commonwealth might be taking a small but important step towards truly adequate indigent defense services for poor suspects with the return of Senator Rosalyn R. Dance’s indigent defense study bill (this year called SJ255);
For those new to the blog:
- Senator Dance was persuaded by a certain blogger to introduce a statewide indigent defense study bill. Time to find out – what will this cost and how can we pay for it – and should we even try!
- Dance’s bill almost died in a state senate committee but Sandy’s senator (Ryan McDougle) saved it bu amending it to a statewide appellate defender’s office.
- It passes the senate! YAY!
- BUT alas it died in the House of Delegates Rules Study Subcommittee.
That was last year. This year is different! Senator Dance has introduced the statewide appellate defender’s office study bill this year.
I urge all my readers to contact their delegate and senator and say YES to better indigent defense. It is not everything we want but it is an important start. The solons in Richmond will have valuable information to enable them to know costs and sources of funds (Remember the state judiciary takes in $280,000,000 (about) more than it uses in costs. Hence the money is there to pay for a statewide indigent defense system.)
Why better indigent defense? Here’s the argument from one of last year’s posts:
- We stand for constitutional rights. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel to every criminal defendant and that should not be limited by poverty. Pro-gun groups for example should support a statewide indigent defense system because the protection of one constitutional rights helps to protect others.
- The present crazy quilt where we have public defender offices in some counties or cities and not others is unequal justice under law
- We have the money. The judicial branch in Virginia brought in $280,000,000 more than it spent in costs according to a letter written by several statewide attorney groups.
- It can be done: Other states such as Colorado have a statewide PD system.
I’ll try to keep you informed.
PS: I want to encourage my fellow bloggers: Bull Elephant, Bearing Drift, even Blue Virginia and others to take up the cause. Feel free to cite this or other posts from last year.
PPS: Thank you again Senator Dance (and her chief of staff Ed Reed) for your vision and willingness to carry this bill for a non-constituent.