23 November 2003

Virginia does not pay an adequate amount of money for the defense of indigent defendants.

Duh. No kidding.

I agree with this: "The problem starts with the shamefully low fees the state pays lawyers appointed to defend the accused who cannot afford an attorney."

I strongly disagree with this: "The low fees offer sparse incentive for lawyers to launch a thorough defense, and they may be inclined to encourage a client who is presumed innocent to plead guilty."

I earn the majority of my money from court appointed Defendants. I don't make enough money to keep a full time secretary (I'm in the process of looking for a part time) which means that there is almost never an actual person at my office and that my contacts with my clients and their families are minimal. Often they are not happy about this and I cannot blame them1.

I have never, ever made a decision about how to proceed on a case based on a concern that I will not make money if my client pleads not guilty. I have tried a number of jury trials where my client is charged with a single felony so that the entire fee is capped at $395 and spent well over 10 hours (at a theoretical State mandated rate of $90 a hour) on the case. And I've also tried at least one misdeameanor jury trial which, if I remember right, was capped at $148.

Now, with that said, I have to admit that if the majority of my clients decided to fight their cases - despite whatever evidence or deal offered by the prosecutor - I would go broke very quickly. I'd also probably start spending a lot of time in jail on contempt charges as the 2 to 5 cases I have on most days I go to court started overlapping and causing me to miss cases.

What is never addressed, and won't be on this go round either, is the shamefully low amount of money paid for court appointed lawyers on appeals. This can be an incredibly time intensive process and the caps are amazingly low. If I only worked the amount of time allotted by payment for writing the petition alone ($400 for court of appeals; $200 for the supreme court) many of my petitions would not even make it to paper; they would stop before research was completed. Heck, I don't know that I could really write a decent Ander's brief in the amount of time that is allotted for the supreme court.

1 Actually, since I sit in my office each and every Friday from 2-5 pm for the open office hours I tell all my clients about (and announce on my answering machine message) and get about one client every three weeks dropping in, I guess I could. Still, I'm certain that someone actually scheduling appointments for me would work better.

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