Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Action Alert from ACLU of Virginia: Tell the VA Supreme Court to End Trial by Ambush!


JUSTICE SYSTEM: Make Virginia trials more fair, June 4, 2015

Major rule changes proposed for pre-trial discovery in criminal cases, June 1, 2015

Original Post:

Today I received an email Action Alert (see below) from the ACLU of Virginia. 

A past post back on April 11, 2014 showed how Virginia’s “Trial by Ambush” works against defendants. 

Before that article, there was a May 29, 2013 Virginian Pilot article Sharing details between lawyers may change in Va. which I shared with all of the Virginia lawmakers later that day.  

When the false accusation was levied against my husband back in mid-May 2007 no one involved in the investigation would tell us what the teenager who lied to save her dog from being euthanized was claiming had occurred.  

We begged the Hanover Commonwealth Attorneys office and the Hanover County Investigator to come interview us, we asked repeatedly what she was claiming he had done, no interview was ever granted and no one would tell us anything.

7 weeks later charges were filed and all we could gather was from those charges and they were outrageous and impossible. 

Our first attorney filed for discovery and all we received was my husband’s statement to the Hanover County investigator in our driveway from the May evening when we first learned there was an accusation. We already knew what he had said that day. 

So, we hired a private investigator who uncovered a history of the teenager telling lies and the family’s character being highly questionable BUT because she was a minor and because it was a criminal sexual case ALL of that information  would be inadmissible in court. Even though some of the people who were willing to testify were employed by Virginian in positions of authority it didn't matter! The accusation against my husband was sufficient evidence and the character or history of the accuser was irrelevant in court.
The first preliminary hearing was held in early September 2007 where we hoped to finally hear what the claim against my husband was but the accuser and her mother didn’t even show up because the Assistant Commonwealths Attorney had already planned to request a continuance, my husband and I had to take off work. The preliminary hearing was rescheduled to late October. 

In October we walked in hoping to finally understand what the claim against my husband was and we were met with first a Guilty Plea offer that we declined and then an Alford Plea that the two felonies would be dropped and instead just one misdemeanor with no jail, no fines, just registration for 10 years. Already having spent $20,000, with another $20,000+ to get us to trial (that we didn’t have) which would be another 6-10 months out in a county that 6 different Richmond attorneys told us had a history of never dropping sexual charges and always had jail time attached we fell for the trap and took the Alford deal to avoid an inevitable outcome that could have bankrupted us and sent my husband to jail possibly up to life plus 20 years.

And we still don’t know what the angry teenager claimed today. 

Five months and two weeks had passed from learning of the accusation to a deal being offered (before a Grand Jury had even met). We had no knowledge of the actual accusation, no facts of the case, dates, times, witnesses, nothing! 

No citizen of the Commonwealth should be offered a deal in a criminal case when the Commonwealth hasn’t even disclosed the specifics of the case. How can a citizen defend themselves let alone make a decision on the rest of their life when the state is holding all the cards? This isn’t a game of chicken waiting to see who gives in first. These are people’s lives, livelihoods, reputations and families at stake. If the State has a solid case that deserves prosecution, then the state needs to disclose the case they claim they have against the person.  

Virginia is 100% a Trial-By-Ambush State and it needs to stop! 

Please take action on the ACLU’s request before the June 30th deadline. 

Thank you
Mary Devoy

Email Alert from ACLU of Virginia: 

Did you know that in criminal cases in Virginia, a defendant is not entitled to see the police report or statements by witnesses before going to trial? 

The Supreme Court of Virginia makes the rules for criminal discovery — the process by which prosecutors and defense attorneys share information before trial. Today, those rules say that police and prosecutors don't have to give a defendant facing jail time police reports, witness statements, or lists with the names of witnesses who will testify at trial. The Washington Post called this system "trial by ambush," because defendants often don't know what's coming until they're in court. This is not how our justice system is supposed to work. 

A committee comprised of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law professors, and law enforcement has recommended substantial changes to the criminal discovery rules. The proposed new rules would require prosecutors to turn over this basic information before trial. The Supreme Court of Virginia is accepting public comments on the proposed rules through Tuesday, June 30.