CHARLESTON -- Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis spoke to the 57th class of State Police cadets during their March 30 graduation ceremony at the University of Charleston.
Here are her remarks:
"It's truly an honor to be here today to welcome so many of you into the State Police. You are entering an agency steeped in tradition and pride.
"Now that you are graduating cadets, you know how hard it is to wear the green uniform. If it were easy, there would be more of you here today.
"Approximately 300 people were invited to test for this 57th cadet class. Now, after seven months of training, 38 are graduating. That's just a little more than ten percent of those who began the process, an elite group indeed!
"I have particular respect for all law enforcement officers, not only because of my work on the bench, but due to particular clients I had as a lawyer. You see, before I was elected to the Supreme Court in 1996, I represented the Deputy Sheriffs Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and many West Virginia State Troopers for years in my private law practice. I came to have deep admiration for the dangerous work of police officers.
"I became a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice in 1996. In my eleven years on the bench, the majority of our court opinions have reflected the Court's respect for all law enforcement officers and the important work you do for the State. In my eleven years on the bench the Court's statistics regarding affirming criminal convictions is quite impressive. In fact, in 1998, the first time I was chief, there was not a single criminal conviction reversed by our Court.
"Although cases in which the Court reverses a criminal conviction make for better headlines and journalistic sensationalism, such cases are the exception rather than the rule. Let's take a brief look at some numbers for 2005.
"In that year, circuit courts in West Virginia handled 8,612 criminal cases. Also in that year, the Supreme Court reviewed 167 criminal petitions for appeal. Of the 167 petitions examined by the Court in 2005, only 24 were granted for full review. In fact, over the past five years, the number of criminal petitions granted by the Court has been declining.
"Thus, the overwhelming majority of criminal appeals are summarily refused upon initial application, thereby affirming the underlying convictions and sentences being challenged. But the story doesn't end there.
"Of the small subset of cases granted for full review, the likelihood remains very high that the conviction will be affirmed. Although the numbers vary from year to year, in 2005 the Court heard arguments in 19 criminal cases that resulted in full written opinions, 16 out of 19, or 84 percent, were affirmed.
"The full range of rights and responsibilities that surround criminal proceedings require the Court to exercise careful review of criminal cases. But in contrast to the hue and cry that can emerge when a high-profile opinion is issued, the rest of the story is that most criminal cases aren't appealed. Of the ones that are, most are refused initially. And of the ones that are granted, most are affirmed. Sometimes, in carrying out our duties under the Constitution, appellate courts do reverse convictions. Candidly, when compared to the thousands of cases handled by our circuit courts each year, the very small number of reversals clearly demonstrates that both law enforcement and the judicial process work, and work well.
"At the academy you have learned the laws on arrest, search and seizure, firearms, defensive tactics, accident investigation, impaired driving, report writing and criminal investigation. And you have learned the laws and procedures quite well. Few criminal reversals by our Court can be directly attributed to or are caused by law enforcement's failure to comply with proper procedures or failure to comply with our state's criminal law.
"So on behalf of the West Virginia State Supreme Court and all West Virginians, I want to thank you for choosing the State Police as a career. The fact that you are willing to serve shows that you are truly a cut above the rest."