Doesn’t Virginia Deserve Better than Third World Justice

29 Nov

Bill of Rights Absent from VirginiaEveryone learns in grade school about the “Bill of Rights,” and that it includes the right to a fair trial, right to trial by jury, right to counsel, and a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.    But apparently the Supreme Court of Virginia missed that lesson.

At the current time in Virginia, a prosecutor does not have to disclose to a defendant all the evidence it has involving the Defendant’s case.  This allows third-world style “trial by ambush.”   The threat of “trial by ambush” causes innocent defendants to plead guilty rather than take a risk that the prosecutor may present surprise evidence at trial that the defendant was unaware of and was not prepared to defend again, or had evidence that vindicated the defendant that the prosecutor failed to disclose.   Such trial by ambush happens everyday in our Virginia courts, including Arlington County courts.

With a glimmer of hope that there would be an attempt to cure these major defects in the Virginia criminal justice system, the Virginia Supreme Court appointed a 29-member committee nearly two years ago.   That committee was made up of distinguished Judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys from throughout the Commonwealth — and worked on the recommendations for eleven months.

Amazingly, this diverse group agreed to a set of recommendations that struck a careful balance while, at the same time, curing some of the major defects in the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system.   Their 60 page recommendations was placed out for comments — a four month process.

After all of that work and promise, the Supreme Court of Virginia did not fail to disappoint….On Nov. 13, the court issued a two–sentence order that concluded:

“Having considered the Committee’s report and the public comments submitted in response thereto, the Court declines to adopt the Committee’s recommendations.”

The Supreme Court of Virginia offered no explanation for it terse negative decision!

The Supreme Court of Virginia should be ashamed of itself.  The authors of the report and the citizens of Virginia are owed a thorough explanation why the court chose to keep the status quo of trial-by-ambush, rather than refine the criminal justice system to more closely align the system with the values and objectives that our country’s founding fathers placed in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution.

What will it take for the Court to become convinced of how broken the current system is, how urgently it needs to be fixed, how it makes criminals of innocents,  and how it ruins their lives and the lives of their families.

This decision does not reflect well on our Commonwealth or its courts.  A sad day for justice.

Read more: Richmond Times-Dispatch