August 13, 2013
The federal sequester that started taking effect earlier this year continues to impact every arm of government across the nation, including here in Virginia. The local Federal court system is feeling the pinch, meaning they can not try some cases due to lack of funding.
"It's already had a significant impact and I predict it will have a greater impact moving forward." says U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy.
The Federal Public Defender's Office represent people facing serious crimes, many of which come with lengthy, and sometimes life sentences. Budget cuts mean attorney's do not have the funds to hire expert witnesses or interpreters for their cases.
Federal Public Defender Fred Heblich says that is proving to be troublesome for some of their cases. "If we had a case where all of a sudden we had to have an expert witness or needed a lot of interpreter time, we'd have to ask to withdraw from the case because we don't have funds to pay for it."
Attorneys in the defender's office are already taking furlough days, but layoffs could looming, says Heblich. "It's a problem that's causing some difficulty and it's just going to get worse. If nothing is done by October first we'll have to start laying people off."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney's Office is preparing to start taking furlough days, forcing the prosecutor's office to take less cases to trial.
"I hope people aren't any less safe, but I worry with people departing and unable to replace them." Says Heaphy. "With furlough days, with the inability to get as much money with state and local law enforcement partners, that our capacity is diminished and that has an impact on public safety."
Congress has until October 1 to strike a deal, before another round of scheduled sequester cuts hit the courtrooms.
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