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Vote Indigent Defense Reform June 11; Vote Dance in the 16th Senate District

Wednesday night I ran into many friends of indigent defense services at a rally/event sponsored by Justice Forward Virginia PAC. You can click on their website to find out more and I do plan to write more on their ideas – I would be quick to say that I am not sure on criminal discovery or bail reform or legalization of marijuana (I think it is coming and my conservative friends should simply get out of the way of it). But there are areas of reform of the criminal justice system that are needed. Sentencing reforms to ensure jurors in the guilt phase know the range of punishment and if there is a mandatory minimum. We need to examine every mandatory minimum statute to see if it is effective AND if the sentences are proportional. (Governor Northam ought to – and this is Sandy talking not the Justice Forward Virginia PAC – he ought to do something like the First Step Act by reviewing sentences for disproportionate results – and because gays were made felons simply because gay sex in parks was a felony and straight sex in parks was a mere misdemeanors, too, the governor should pardon those gay offenders. [This disparity arose because solicitation of a felony IS a felony and solicitation of a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor.] Uncorroborated testimony of informants and inmates ought to be inadmissible. (The legal system prohibits for example uncorroborated statements by dead persons to live persons against the financial interest of the dead person.) Interdiction of alleged “drunkards” (those found by a court to be a “habitual drunkard”) to criminalize even private possession of alcohol by those interdicted ought to be abolished or severely reformed. Ex parte hearings for experts by indigents ought to be extended to all felony cases.

BUT this group has come out for partial reform of the indigent defense system:

“Open public defender offices in Henrico, Chesterfield and Prince William Counties, and raise funding for indigent defense services.”

This is an excellent start. I hope to acquire clout with this group and see if I can move the needle to a statewide appellate defender’s office and ultimately see all counties and cities in the Commonwealth have a public defender office. The institutional advantages of public defender offices make a serious case that our partial coverage in the Commonwealth is unequal justice under law.

Now there are many who have through the years who have helped the cause of indigent defense but one of the best champions is Senator Rosalyn R. Dance (D-Dist 16); she met with me – a nobody – not even a member of her own party – and studied the issue and introduced a study bill for the feasibility of a statewide indigent defense system (Here is the history for 2016 and it actually passed the state senate as amended to the feasibility of a statewide appellate defender system but in 2017, it somehow did not get out of committee – now I was present in 2016 and in 2017, work kept me from attending that committee hearing and the bill failed. In 2016, my senator Ryan McDougle helped save the bill. I am not claiming I got the bill passed with my presence but I find it odd that the same bill passed the first year when I was present and failed the second year when I was not.)

So I would encourage any voter in the 16th Senate District to vote in the Democrat primary on June 11 for the incumbent senator: Rosalyn R. Dance. I cannot endorse the senator’s opponent; a good friend told me yesterday there is a good chance this opponent could win. Senator Dance stood with me on the indigent defense question (in fact I apologized to her Wednesday night for my failures to help her more and she was gracious to me) so let’s stand with her. Let’s return her back to the General Assembly. Anyone can vote in a primary and I believe if the primary is tantamount to the election, you should do so. Be blue for the day and the day is June 11 and the person is Dance in the 16th.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

4 Responses to “Vote Indigent Defense Reform June 11; Vote Dance in the 16th Senate District”

  1. Tom Salmon says:

    The lady is not in my district, but I am happy she was willing to work with you.

    Government tends to be a heartless thing. That is be because politicians reward those who can support their election or reelection. Hence, an an obvious obligation, providing indigents accused of a crime sufficient funding to provide for their defense, is ignored. My guess is you would do better to find private funding sources. I will admit it is going to be difficult to gain much sympathy for what appears to be indigent criminals. So government funding may seem like a better bet, but politicians are a hard-hearted lot.

  2. Mr. Nobody says:

    1) After looking at the decision today in the case of Robert Kraft, do you think that there is any doubt that our court system is not totally corrupt? I’ll let you people decide if the big money establishment would have ended the judge’s career if he had ruled otherwise. Or, did the judge rule to get himself apromotion?

    2) Last week did the Republicans banker, Sheldon Aldelson, dispatch a carrier strike force to Iran? And now, this week we have what looks like another Gulf of Tonkin type incident, except it’s in the Persian Gulf. Is Trump the most corrupt administration in the history of the US?

    You really gotta be from another planet not to see what is going on in this world.


  1. […] statewide network of public defender offices with an appellate and post-conviction unit. As long as we have some […]

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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