ESTABLISHMENT OF AN OFFICE OF PUBLIC DEFENDER FOR ARLINGTON COUNTY
WHEREAS, a fair and impartial justice system is essential to our democracy and the creation of a public defender office would promote fairness, consistency and efficiency in Arlington's criminal justice system;
WHEREAS, the need for public defender services in Arlington exists in both the juvenile and adult court systems where the majority of criminal defendants cannot afford to pay for adequate legal representation;
WHEREAS, language and mental health issues often complicate the representation of many of these defendants, and a public defender office could be structured to meet the particular needs of Arlington's diverse population;
WHEREAS, Arlington's current criminal justice system for indigent defendants relies exclusively on court appointed attorneys and the statutory fees for Virginia court appointed attorneys are among the lowest in the United States;
WHEREAS, Arlington is one of the most populous jurisdictions in Virginia without a public defender office, and Arlington is the only county in Northern Virginia without a public defender office;
WHEREAS, the Commonwealth's Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church supports the establishment of a public defender office in Arlington;
NOW THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Arlington County Civic Federation supports the creation of a public defender office for Arlington and urges the Virginia General Assembly and Arlington County Board to support the authorization and appropriate funding** of such an office for Arlington;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, in the event a Public Defenders Office is authorized for Arlington and established prior to recommendations from the State's Indigent Defense Commission, the ACCF encourages the County Government, to the extent of its legal authority, to work for the establishment of minimum qualifications for the defense of those accused of various types of criminal acts; the establishment of maximum case loads for Public Defenders and their staff; the establishment of training programs in conjunction with area law schools including, but not limited to, Continuing Legal Education (CLE) and juvenile defense; and the establishment of a Citizens Advisory Committee for indigent legal defense patterned after that which exists in Charlottesville, Virginia or similar jurisdictions as applicable.
** The Committee is currently researching whether funds available for Court-appointed attorneys through the State's Criminal Defense Fund are reapportioned for jurisdictions adopting a Public Defender Office, which is funded through the Public Defender Commission. Estimated costs of a Public Defender Office for Arlington are $1 to $1.48 million.
ISSUES CONSIDERED BY THE COMMITTEE
Major cons are that it will
- create a new bureaucracy;
- cost Arlington residents approximately $1 million per year;
- irritate current court-appointed attorneys (although many will still be needed because of caseload and conflict problems);
- Include paying for non-Arlington resident defendants
My pros are:
- It is really Constitutionally and ethically mandated that we provide equal opportunities for adequate defense;
- It is cost-effective since public defenders are salaried employees;
- Some of the money will be reimbursed/contributed by the State, but how much depends upon the overall health of the State budget;
- It will enhance the qualifications of those representing defendants because they will build experience over time;
- It will enhance local control over training opportunities/mandates;
- It will foster partnerships with existing legal institutions;
- It will provide opportunities to give direct experience, through internships, to young people interested in the law - and perhaps in a career in public defense;
- Our resolution, if adopted, will include citizens who can monitor and strengthen a PD system;
- It will reduce charges of - and chances of - discrimination in the quality of defense because of the socio-economic or racial status of a defendant;
- It COULD be a vehicle for enhancing existing social service programs for offenders, particularly our juvenile defendants.
This page was last revised on: January 25, 2004.