Indigent Criminal Defense and Commonwealth’s Attorneys: Report to the Governor and the General Assembly of Virginia

Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (2023).

This report examines the state of public defense in Virginia, as requested by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. Virginia has a hybrid public defense system comprised of either state-funded local public defender offices or private court-appointed defense attorneys compensated by the state. This report finds a sharp decline in the number of court-appointed defense attorneys in the state, from nearly 4,000 attorneys in 2013 to 1,900 in 2023, largely due to low compensation rates and statutory pay caps on defense cases. In addition, this study finds that public defender offices face an increase in workload (up nearly 50% from 2013 to 2023) with not enough mitigation specialists, investigators, paralegals, legal assistants, and office managers to effectively represent their clients. Based on these findings, this report calls for the state to raise pay caps for court-appointed defense attorneys and fund additional mitigation specialists and other roles in public defender offices to help with workloads. This report illustrates the need for robust state investment in public defense structures to fulfill constitutional mandates of effective representation for all youth and adults facing juvenile or criminal charges.

File Type: pdf
Categories: Policy Tool, Resource Library
Tags: Contract Counsel, Holistic Defense, Youth Defense Systems