News Release ~ 02/02/2004

Va. Indigent Defense System Still Failing

Washington, DC (February 2, 2004) -- A new study of Virginia''s indigent defense system released Monday, Feb. 2, 2004, concludes that the state is still failing miserably in providing constitutionally-adequate representation in criminal cases to persons who cannot afford it. The report, "A Comprehensive Review of Indigent Defense in Virginia," was prepared by The Spangenberg Group and sponsored by the American Bar Association''s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, the Washington, D.C. law firm Covington & Burling, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"The Spangenberg Report documents what is painfully obvious - that Virginia fails to protect its innocent citizens from wrongful conviction," said Steve Benjamin, Richmond, president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "For decades, Virginia has refused to honor its constitutional duty to provide legal representation to citizens who are accused of a crime, but who cannot afford the high cost of their own private attorney. This failure means that innocent people go to prison, while guilty criminals remain free. Without adequate resources for public defenders and appointed counsel, Virginia can’t hope to ensure that our criminal justice system reliably determines the truth of a criminal accusation." Benjamin also serves on NACDL''s Board of Directors and is a vice chair of the NACDL Indigent Defense Committee.

"NACDL is committed to seeing that Virginia upholds its constitutional duty to protect the rights of innocent citizens, whether through legislative reform or other means. The time for the legislature to act is now, however, and not in some future session. This problem has festered for three decades, resulting in innocent lives wasted in years of wrongful incarceration," Benjamin said after reviewing the report. "NACDL will not turn its back."

The Spangenberg Group report is available by clicking here

For more information, visit http://www.nacdl.org/public.nsf/DefenseUpdates/Virginia025 

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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