“Virginia is a trial-by-ambush state”

ScalesSo said Chesapeake assistant public defender Matthew Taylor, as quoted in an article today.  It seems Virginia, unlike other states, doesn’t share with defense attorneys certain information, including police reports.

Perhaps they need to do an episode of Law & Order using Virginia’s discovery rules.

But that may be changing.

Over the objections of prosecutors, the Virginia State Bar’s Indigent Defense Task Force asked the state’s Supreme Court earlier this year to overhaul its policies governing discovery – the formal process by which the defense and prosecution exchange information.

Not being a lawyer, I have no idea how this is going to play out. But it does seem to me that trial-by-ambush isn’t justice.

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3 thoughts on ““Virginia is a trial-by-ambush state”

  1. A favorite tactic of persecutors, errr, PROsecutors, is to pile on a bunch of BS charges, then offer a plead deal to get the accused to admit to something (as unprovable as any of the other charges) and go to jail for a few months to avoid the possibility of going to jail for years.

  2. The comment from Assoc. Prof. Bellin at the end of the article makes a great point, I think: as much as some CAs will gnash their teeth and rend their garments over this, ultimately, the proposed changes would likely help to inoculate their cases against being overturned on appeal, much as confessions to police interrogators are almost never excluded nowadays because police are required to issue Miranda warnings when arresting a suspect.

  3. This phrase “trial by ambush” is wholly applicable to our general district court (lower level trial court) system. I do not practice criminal law, but know quite a bit about the process. I first heard the phrase from a sitting Virginia judge while in law school. It also applies to civil cases in the G.D.C. When training interns or law clerks I use the phrase to drive home the point that we will have to prepare only with our own information. I have used the phrase on opposing counsel, and had it used against me.

    I know prosecutors from other states that have to deal with more onerous discovery requirements. In short, defendants are still charged and convicted and the justice system is still inconsistent. I agree fully with Silence D that changes will help inoculate cases. There will still be gnashing of teeth from C.A.’s as changes are discussed.

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