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Support the Commonwealth’s move into the 21st century with expanded discovery rules

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Apparently since the beginning of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s birth, the state has had such limited criminal discovery/evidence disclosure rules that trials here for criminal defendants in many ways are trials by fire.

Numerous very capable and devoted criminal defense colleagues have doggedly and skillfully kept up over the years in urging the Virginia Supreme Court and the Commonwealth’s legislators to bring criminal discovery rules into the 21st century, so that the defense receives such basic evidence from the prosecution as police reports.

Stunningly, today the Virginia Senate voted 39-1 to do just that — via Senate Bill 1563, for Circuit Court felony cases and Circuit Court misdemeanors brought on direct indictment. Here is what is left to do:

– This Senate Bill 1563 (criminal discovery procedure) will only become law if it also is passed by the Virginia Hose of Delegates and signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe. I ask that Virginia voters today urge their state delegate to vote “aye” for Senate Bill 1563, and that you urge Governor McAuliffe to sign the legislation.

– Current Virginia District Court criminal discovery rules (for misdemeanor cases) are more crabbed than the currently crabbed Virginia Circuit Court felony discovery rules. Under Virginia Supreme Court Rule 7C:5, Virginia District Court discovery is limited to the defendant’s statements to police and the defendant’s criminal record. Once Senate Bill 1563 becomes law, it will be time to expand the Virginia District Court discovery rules.

Your communication to your Virginia Delegate should be in your own words. If you wish a reference point, here is the email I sent my Virginia delegate:

Dear Delegate ________-

Please support and vote “aye” for SB 1563 https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?171+ful+SB1563S1– covering Circuit Court criminal litigation discovery – which today passed the Senate by a resounding 39-1 vote.

I practice criminal defense in Virginia, and started practicing criminal defense in 1991 in neighboring Maryland, which has long had criminal case discovery protections. Not only has the sky not fallen in Maryland, but Marylanders also can be proud that with that state’s discovery rules, their prosecutors are not inflicting trial by fire on criminal defendants.

I look forward to your supporting SB 1563.


Jonathan L. Katz

Your constituent


To all the lawyers and others who have been doggedly fighting for expanded criminal discovery rules in Virginia — seeking no glory but instead justice — thank you deeply. To those who support their tireless efforts, please join them today in urging your Virginia Delegate to vote “aye” for Virginia SB 1563.