Richmond, Virginia—In a pivotal step away from justice today, Virginia community members are concerned today after members of House Courts of Justice Committee Subcommittee #1 voted down HB369, Delegate Angelia Williams Graves’ bill requiring defendants to have access to a lawyer the very first time they appear before a judge. While we are disappointed with this result, we have hope that the Senate will pass the companion bill, SB475, and this vital legislation will continue to move forward.
“Without a lawyer to fight on their behalf, people who have been found neither innocent nor guilty of what they are accused of, are left waiting in jail for days or weeks before they go before a judge,” LaTwyla Mathias, Executive Director at Progress Virginia said. “With this kind of pretrial injustice, there is no one to file a motion for bond and people can be left incarcerated without ever being convicted. This leads to individuals potentially losing jobs or housing, missing medical treatments, and may also leave children to live without their parents for extended periods of time. In a diverse community like Virginia, we work to ensure everyone is treated fairly and has the resources they need to thrive. It’s disappointing that members of the House Courts of Justice Subcommittee #1 voted against this bill that would ensure a more just system for all of us. ”
“The inability to afford a lawyer should not determine the level of justice one receives in Virginia’s criminal legal process.” Monique Gillum, Dunn Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Virginia, said. “One of the cornerstones of meaningful pretrial justice is the ability to consult with a lawyer before a person’s first court appearance before a judge. This basic and necessary access to a legal advocate helps limit excessive bail, extended pretrial detention, and life-altering collateral consequences. Ensuring the criminal legal process is just and fair for everyone regardless of the size of their wallet should not be a partisan issue.”
- 4x greater likelihood of being sentenced to jail
- 3x longer jail sentences
- 3x greater likelihood of being sentenced to prison
- 2x longer prison sentences
- Worse life outcomes – Even short detentions are likely to cause disruption to the life of the person charged including:
- Loss of employment
- Loss of housing
- Loss of custody of children or other family members in need of care
- More likely to be arrested in the future – both before and after the initial set of charges are resolved
- After the state of New York introduced counsel at first appearance, defendants were 10-20% more likely to have bail set at less than $1000 and three times more likely to have bail set at under $500.