Virginia Takes Step Toward Ending Trial By Ambush
Sen. Bill Stanley introduces a proposal to level the playing field between prosecutors and accused
Washington, DC, February 13, 2017 – Legislation introduced by State Senator Bill Stanley (R-Moneta) would reform the rules prosecutors must follow in providing defendants access to case information.
Senate Bill 1563 would require ‘reciprocal discovery’ in criminal trials filed by Commonwealth attorneys.
Pat Nolan, the Director of American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform, explained: “Access to information about whatever charges get filed is critical to being able to defend yourself in court. Senator Stanley’s bill levels the playing field by requiring prosecutors to turn over witness statements, police reports, and other key information.”
Currently Virginia’s discovery rules are among the most restrictive in the country and have been criticized for years. The reforms included in SB 1563 reflect recent recommendations of the Virginia Supreme Court Special Committee on Criminal Discovery Rules. They will ensure a more transparent process, which in turn, increases the public’s confidence in the fairness of the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system.
“The majority of prosecutors are decent and ethical lawyers who go beyond the bare minimum to provide information needed by the accused. But those who choose not to do so are able to conduct trials by ambush. Reciprocal discovery requirements like the ones contained in Senator Stanley’s legislation reduce the risk that innocent Virginians are wrongfully convicted,” said the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Pat Nolan.
In the last six years, nearly half of all wrongful conviction cases in Virginia involved the failure of prosecutors to share sufficient information with defendants. As a direct result, people wrongfully accused and convicted served almost 160 years in prison, even though they were innocent. These cases have cost taxpayers more than $5 million in damages.
SB 1563 passed the Virginia State Senate on February 7th by an overwhelming 39-1 vote. The bill now heads to the House of Delegates where it will be considered by the Subcommittee on Criminal Law.
The American Conservative Union Foundation (“ACUF”) is one of the nation’s oldest organizations representing grass roots conservatives throughout the United States. Founded more than four decades ago by William F. Buckley, ACUF works to advance our core values of liberty, personal accountability, and fiscal responsibility – all of which are impacted by criminal justice reform.
As part of its educational mission, ACUF also compiles ratings of every federal and state legislator in the United States. These ratings help the public understand the positions of policy makers, based objectively on their individual voting records rather than their rhetoric. Criminal justice reform votes have been included in the ratings in recent years. All ACUF ratings can be found at: http://acuratings.conservative.org.
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For more information on this topic, please contact Pat Nolan or David Safavian at the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform at: (202) 347-9388.