Sunday, July 04, 2004

More than one in ten state court criminal appeals in Virginia botched by lawyers?

In this editorial ("Court of No Appeal," 7/4/04), the Washington Post claims the following:

"An investigation by this page reveals that in 2003 more than one in 10 of the 2,660 criminal cases before the Virginia Court of Appeals -- the state's mid-level appellate court -- were dismissed not because the cases had no merit but because fees or documents were not filed with the court on time. These dismissals were overwhelmingly the result, as in Mr. Watts's case, of attorney error, not defendants mishandling cases in which they represented themselves: Nearly 9 percent of appeals in the court were thrown out because of errors by lawyers -- errors so fundamental that they don't even involve legal skills. Public defenders and court-appointed lawyers for poor defendants were responsible for more than 70 percent of the cases in which lawyers threw away their clients' rights. Moreover, we identified more than 40 attorneys who, over 15 months, appear to have blown more than one case and at least 12 who appear to have filed appeals in three or more cases that were dismissed. Every time one of these defaults takes place, someone's appeal -- however much merit it may have, however innocent the defendant may be -- does not get heard."

The editorial goes on to conclude there are two conditions which make this outcome likely: (1) the harshness of Virginia procedural rules, and (2) lack of compensation means inadequate counsel.

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