I hinted that there was news on the Appellate Defender’s Office front. Now I can openly discuss it!
Senator Chap Petersen of Fairfax has introduced a budget amendment (here it is!) to reestablish an Appellate Defender’s Office in this Commonwealth. It’s a tiny office at first, not even one quarter the size of the criminal appellate division of the Attorney General’s office, but it is a necessary start.
The Constitution of the United States protects an indigent’s right to an attorney in both the trial courts and in the first appellate court in any state like Virginia that has two or more appellate courts. But Virginia goes one step further – protecting by statute the right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Hence, indigents have the opportunity to appeal their conviction to both state appeals court (if the facts warrant it). The court will appoint the attorney in the trial court and that appointment continues through the courts until relieved or he or she reaches the Virginia Supreme Court.
The Appellate Defender’s office was set up by the Indigent Defense Commission (formerly the Public Defender Commission) in 1996 as a pilot project. Two or three local PD offices sent us appeals and several others sent us appeals in the situation where the public defender office was appointed first on appeal. Soon the budget allowed for an associate (S. Jane Chittom, Esq.) who eventually became my successor in 2000. We were up against the excellent attorneys in the criminal appellate division of the Attorney General’s office. At the time the office was closed, there were three full time attorneys, I believe one part time lawyer and a administrative assistant. Other states such as Missouri and Michigan have an appellate defender’s office (for the record I support a fully-funded statewide public defender system.) and we can and should have one too.
I want to urge my readers to email their delegates and senators and ask them to support Sen. Petersen’s budget amendment. The Tea Party stands for constitutional rights and many of my fellow Tea Partiers are concerned about such things as military indefinite detention. We can stand for the Constitution. We should. I also urge my fellow bloggers, including on the other side of the aisle to support this bill. Feel free to quote me as needed to move this cause along.