Gideon Alert: Virginia, budget-balancing, and reclassification of offenses

BY David Carroll on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 12:22 PM

Our nation's indigent defense crisis cannot be solved simply by throwing money at it.  Systemic approaches to reduce the number of clients and cases requiring public defenders in the first place -- such as expanded use of diversion, mediation, and reclassification of crimes to civil infractions -- can remove large numbers of situations into other arenas that do not constitutionally require the appointment of counsel.

The Washington Examiner reports that Virginia has passed legislation directing prosecutors not to seek jail time for certain low-level, non-violent misdemeanor charges.  "There isn't a single human being in Virginia who gets one millisecond in jail for first-offense possession of marijuana," they quote Del. Dave Albo, R-Springfield, chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee, as saying.  "So why should taxpayers be paying for the guy's lawyer?"  Legislators are projecting the policy will save the state $3.5 million each year.