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News Release ~ 09/06/2018

Supreme Court of Virginia Overhauls Criminal Discovery Rules; Major Victory for Broad, Bipartisan Coalition of Criminal Justice Reformers

Washington, DC (Sept. 6, 2018) – Late yesterday, Sept. 5, 2018, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued amended criminal discovery rules set to take effect July 1, 2019, marking the first such overhaul in decades. Specifically, the Court issued amended Rules 3A:11 (Discovery and Inspection) and 3A:12 (Subpoena) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia. The amended rules provide far greater pretrial disclosure by prosecutors, including the inspection and review of police reports and statements of co-defendants and alleged co-conspirators that are sought to be introduced at trial. The amended rules also create mutual obligations on the defense and prosecution relating to the exchange of witness lists and expert witness information.

After years of concerted efforts by numerous individuals and entities from across the ideological spectrum, in both the General Assembly and at the grassroots level in Virginia, the Supreme Court earlier this year again took up consideration of the matter of the Commonwealth’s rules for disclosure, known as discovery, in criminal cases. The Court determined it would consider revisions proposed by the Virginia State Bar’s Criminal Discovery Reform Task Force, inviting comments from throughout the Commonwealth and the nation. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) was among those who submitted extensive comments to the Court.

Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons issued a statement with the amended rules. In it, he stated that “[c]riminal discovery reform is a complex matter, and while there is not 100% agreement on all issues, this proposal has significant support from the numerous stakeholders involved in the criminal discovery process.”

“With these meaningful changes to Virginia’s rules for disclosure in criminal cases, the Commonwealth affirms its commitment to fairness, justice, and due process for all those haled into its courts,” said NACDL President Drew Findling. “In the American criminal justice system, people accused of a crime are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. With that presumption at the core of the American understanding of a fair trial, there should be no room for gamesmanship in a criminal proceeding. Virginia’s amended rules are an important step forward toward leveling the playing field and ensuring that accused persons and their counsel are able to prepare the defense to which they are entitled.”

“There are no shortcuts to achieving meaningful criminal justice reform such as we are now witnessing in the Commonwealth of Virginia, my home state,” said NACDL Director of Advocacy Monica L. Reid, who has spearheaded NACDL’s multi-year involvement in discovery reform efforts in Virginia and elsewhere. “It takes coalition building across the political spectrum with those who share one’s vision for reform. It also requires both grassroots and grasstops organizing as well as extensive public education. NACDL looks forward to continuing its criminal justice reform efforts, including in the area of disclosure in criminal cases, in jurisdictions across the nation. And of course, NACDL will be monitoring activity at the Virginia General Assembly in an effort to ensure that the Supreme Court’s rule changes are neither thwarted nor overturned.”

Since 2015, NACDL has worked with its state affiliate, the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (VACDL), and other groups and individuals seeking discovery reform in Virginia, including Justice Forward Virginia, the Charles Koch Institute, the Innocence Project, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, New Virginia Majority, legislators on both sides of the aisle, including Senate sponsor Bill Stanley, and numerous attorneys across the Commonwealth. These efforts included public education and community events, legislative lobbying, and grassroots campaigns.

For more information on NACDL’s extensive, years-long efforts as relates to discovery reform in Virginia, please visit https://www.nacdl.org/Virginia-Discovery-Reform/. And for more information about NACDL’s work on discovery reform at the federal level and elsewhere in the nation, please visit https://www.nacdl.org/discoveryreform/.

Earlier this year, during the Supreme Court of Virginia’s comment period on the proposed rule changes, NACDL released a podcast as part of its Criminal Docket podcast series concerning “Criminal Discovery Reform Efforts in Virginia.” This podcast episode, which provides an excellent survey of the issues at play and the recent discovery reform efforts, includes interviews with Doug Ramseur, the capital defender for central Virginia and past president and current board member of VACDL as well as a member of the Virginia State Bar’s Criminal Discovery Reform Task Force; Virginia State Senator Bill Stanley; and NACDL Director of Advocacy Monica L. Reid. You can listen to the podcast here. All episodes of the Criminal Docket are available at https://www.nacdl.org/thecriminaldocket/.

Contact

Ivan Dominguez, NACDL Director of Public Affairs and Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org 

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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