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Virginia Expands Criminal Defendants' Rights to Inspect Evidence Prior to Trial

Ending a nearly three year debate, the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that those accused of committing criminal offenses will be entitled to inspect evidence relevant to his or her case including police reports, written witness statements, written summaries of statements made by witnesses, and a list of witnesses expected to testify for the prosecution. The new discovery rule, taking effect in July of next year, also requires the defense to turn over its witness list to the prosecution before trial. Prior to the enactment of the new rule, criminal defendants were only entitled to review statements made by the defendant, tangible evidence, and written reports of scientific tests.

The rule will expand a defendant's knowledge of the case against him or her aiding in pretrial preparation, and will enhance the defendant's ability to cross-examine law enforcement officers and eye witnesses at trial. It will also help defendants decide between entering into a plea agreement and taking the case to trial. Advocates for expanding discovery praise the rule as a step closer to ending trial by ambush, while opponents argue that it places a higher burden on the prosecution, and that it will lead to increased expenses. The law will bring Virginia criminal discovery rules more in line with the rest of the country.

Joseph R. Pricone serves as counsel for individuals in all matters relating to criminal defense, including representation on felony offenses, misdemeanor offenses, traffic infractions, investigations, and appeals. Contact Mark B. Williams & Associates for more information.

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