The Champion

January/February 2003 , Page 48 

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Gideon Belongs to the Community in Virginia

By James Hingeley

Gideon v. Wainwright was decided in 1963. With its customary deliberate speed, Virginia waited until 1972 to start shifting from assigned counsel to a public defender system to carry out the Gideon mandate. Thirty years of piecemeal development have brought Virginia to the point where public defenders serve only about half the population. Offices are large and small, rural and urban, and geographically scattered across the state.

For years, criminal justice professionals have realized that Virginia should establish a statewide public defender system. In his 2002 state of the judiciary message, Virginia’s Chief Justice Harry Carrico advocated that a statewide system “would offer the best possible means of providing a higher level of services for indigent defendants . . . .” The haphazard expansion of the public defender system, however, is likely to continue. The state legislature keeps a tight hold on the process and so far has not shown much interest in planning rationally for the futu

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