21 March 2004

The NACDL has excerpted sections of the recent report on the failures of indigent defense in Virginia. An example:
§ The [Richmond Public Defender’s] office uses Windows 95, has old computers and very slow internet access. Until recently, the office had just two printers for the entire office, which spans the floor of a downtown office building. Now the office has three printers. There is no IT person on staff; the Public Defender Commission has two IT staff members for the 21 public defender offices. When they get “new” equipment, it is typically left-over castoffs the Public Defender Commission has accumulated: a “new computer” can be four years old. Unlike the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, the Public Defender staff lacks the capacity to view digital photos from the Medical Examiner’s office. In an age where digital photographic equipment is the standard, the office has two Polaroid cameras and an old video camera. (p.37-38)

. . .

§ In Richmond, a court-appointed attorney who took over 300 appointments in one year told us that they constituted 20% of his income, as he had a largely successful retained criminal practice. We asked how he could provide quality service to both his appointed and retained clients, he said he can’t. “In retained felony cases I work hard to investigate the case, look for witnesses, consider discovery and the use of an outside expert.” In felony cases for court-appointed clients, “I tell them to investigate the case themselves, look for witnesses and if they find them bring them to the office or to court. Frequently I interview the witnesses just before trial and hope they will help the case. Sometimes they screw up the case and I have to scratch around for a plea.” (p.50)
The ABA has links to the entire report here.

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