People might laugh at this idea, but there are at least three good solid reasons why the Tea Party (I am a member of my local Tea Party group – the Mechanicsville Tea Party!) should support the initiative that Senator Chap Petersen has introduced on the Appellate Defender’s (more details here!) office:
1. The Tea Party favors adherence to the Constitution. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to an attorney in a criminal trial (and also certain appeals) regardless of poverty. Although that right was not fully guaranteed until the seminal case of Gideon v. Wainwright, it is important and the Tea Party can consistently support constitutional rights. (In Virginia, we have a unusual situation: The constitutional right to appeal goes only to the first state appellate court BUT a state statute extends that right to the state supreme court. The state bar helps to enforce this right by disciplining lawyers who miss appeal deadlines for their appointed clients unless it is clear the client did not want to appeal.) No one can say the Tea Party only enforces the rights of corporations or favored groups if we support this bill
2. With the rise of laws such as NDAA, authorizing indefinite detention, it is critically important that rights ensuring access to the courts be protected for ALL persons eligible for such access. That includes poor criminal defendants convicted in state court. The Appellate Defender is the best way to do so.
3. What happens on appeal in criminal cases can and does establish a precedent for other cases. The local courts can only affect those who are in those courts. But the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court issue rulings that are followed, indeed they must be applied, in all cases where that decision potentially applies. Evidence, procedure and interpretation of state laws are all areas where criminal precedents can affect litigants in civil cases.
I am sure there are more reasons and I may cite them as needed. But my appeal to the Virginia Tea Party Federation is this: Support Senate Bill 738 today and lets get the GOP delegates and senators to agree: Protect constitutional rights. Establish a permanent Appellate Defender’s office in the Commonwealth.
Here (legp604) is the text of Senate Bill 738.