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Concerns raised about waiver of jail time

Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr. says he will appoint a subcommittee of the Committee on District Courts to help develop a policy designed to save $3 million a year in court-appointed attorneys’ fees.

Commonwealth’s attorneys suggested the money could be saved if they adopted a general rule of not seeking jail time for misdemeanor offenses, and the 2010-12 budget reflects the projected savings from the plan. Defendants typically are entitled to an attorney at the state’s expense only if they face the possibility of incarceration.

Two state senators on the committee, Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, and W. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Martinsville, said at today’s meeting that defense attorneys — and even prosecutors — have concerns that defendants might jump at plea agreements with no jail time, even when they might have a legitimate defense,  and might not consider the the enhancement in punishment that state law provides for subsequent convictions of many offenses.

Hassell said the CDC’s subcommittee members will work with representatives of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s attorneys and the Indigent Defense Commission on ways to minimize those concerns.

By Alan Cooper


  1. Virginia Perry

    The Commonwealth has for many years exercised its discretion on a case by case basis to waive incarceration to avoid appointment of counsel. How is it different to do so on a larger scale? If it is the policy of the Commonwealth that misdemeanors do not warrant incarceration, isn’t that an appropriate function of the legislative branch?

  2. The concerns raised by the Senators are absolutely valid. I see this happening in court frequently when defendants have jail time waived by the Commonwealth.

  3. Wallace Brittle

    And the next time they are in court for an enhanced punishment, the judge will review the certified conviction and see that the defendant “waived” a lawyer. I think it should be more explicit that it could not have been a knowing and intelligent waiver since they were not offered counsel with which to confer.

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