Limited Criminal Discovery in Virginia General District Courts
Often times, clients will come to me charged with a crime. When deciding to hire me, they want to know when I will go over and get the police report in their case. They also want to know when I get to obtain the witness statements and pretty much everything else the prosecuting attorney will use to prove them guilty.
To the surprise of many, a Virginia criminal defendant does not have a right to police reports, witness lists, and other evidence that the prosecutor will use to convict them in the General District Court. In fact, under Rule 7C:5 of the Rules of the Supreme Court, they only have a right to two things:
1) any relevant written or record statements or confessions made by the accused, or copies thereof and the substance of any oral statements and confessions made by the accused to any law enforcement officer; and
2) any criminal record of the accuse.
That’s right – the defendant only has a right to his own statements and criminal record. There is also a right to a very narrow body of evidence called “Brady" material. In summary, Brady evidence is such that it would actually show the defendant to be innocent, which as one might expect read very narrowly.
That being said, a skilled attorney will make due with what is available. I can tell you that in my cases, my most valuable asset is the clients themselves. They were there and know what happened. Even if a particular client cannot testify because he or she would essentially be producing evidence against him or herself, knowing about what actually happened allows me to avoid land mines in the court room as well as adequately advise a client about the prospects of the case.
Therefore, when looking for an attorney, my advice is to meet with them as early as possible, be honest with them, and be aware that they have to work within the very rigid rules of the Virginia courts.
For more information, call me at Ben Glass Law.
James S. Abrenio