Public understanding of the Virginia legal system is "distressingly poor," the state Supreme Court's chief justice has told an Arlington audience.

Chief Justice Harry L. Carrico, in a speech to the Virginia Lawyers' Auxiliary at George Mason University's law school, said he was similiarly appalled at the results of a national survey last year that showed the public misunderstood many basic legal concepts.

The survey by the Hearst Corp. showed that 50 percent of the respondents in a telephone survey believe it is up to the defendant in a criminal trial to prove his innocence. "I am appalled at the widespread ignorance these figures reveal," Carrico said Friday.

The survey also showed that only 41 percent of respondents could correctly identify U.S. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger as a judge; 38 percent could not identify the chief justice at all. Forty-one percent could not identify Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"To me, as a state judge," Carrico said, "the saddest statistic of all is that 75 percent knew little or nothing about state and local courts."

Carrico has given his support to a group he hopes will help fill these gaps in the public's knowledge, the Virginia Lawyers Auxiliary-State Carrico Commission on Law-Related Education. It will collect information from jurisdictions that operate court tours for schoolchildren and encourage other areas to start such programs, Carrico said.

Arlington, which launched such a program in 1978, was the second jurisdiction in the state to have such tours, following Harrisonburg. Once a month, a sixth-grade class visits the Arlington courthouse, sits in on trials, tours the holding cells and talks with judges, probation officers and police.

Jeanette Sheridan, who taught in Arlington schools for nine years and is president of the auxiliary, said teaching 11-year-olds about the judicial system may be the only way to reverse the results of the national survey.

Arlington Police Sgt. Dave Tooley said he believes the court tours may help prevent crimes as well as educate children about law enforcement. "The more you understand anything, the more likely you are to respect it." he said.

Court tour programs such as Arlington's "have been a great success where they have been instituted," Carrico said. "I would like to see them, however, expand into every corner of the commonwealth." Knowledge Of Law Setup Called Poor By Anndee Hochman Washington Post Staff Writer

Public understanding of the Virginia legal system is "distressingly poor," the state Supreme Court's chief justice has told an Arlington audience.

Chief Justice Harry L. Carrico, in a speech to the Virginia Lawyers' Auxiliary at George Mason University's law school, said he was similiarly appalled at the results of a national survey last year that showed the public misunderstood many basic legal concepts.

The survey by the Hearst Corp. showed that 50 percent of the respondents in a telephone survey believe it is up to the defendant in a criminal trial to prove his innocence. "I am appalled at the widespread ignorance these figures reveal," Carrico said Friday.

The survey also showed that only 41 percent of respondents could correctly identify U.S. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger as a judge; 38 percent could not identify the chief justice at all. Forty-one percent could not identify Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"To me, as a state judge," Carrico said, "the saddest statistic of all is that 75 percent knew little or nothing about state and local courts."

Carrico has given his support to a group he hopes will help fill these gaps in the public's knowledge, the Virginia Lawyers Auxiliary-State Carrico Commission on Law-Related Education. It will collect information from jurisdictions that operate court tours for schoolchildren and encourage other areas to start such programs, Carrico said.

Arlington, which launched such a program in 1978, was the second jurisdiction in the state to have such tours, following Harrisonburg. Once a month, a sixth-grade class visits the Arlington courthouse, sits in on trials, tours the holding cells and talks with judges, probation officers and police.

Jeanette Sheridan, who taught in Arlington schools for nine years and is president of the auxiliary, said teaching 11-year-olds about the judicial system may be the only way to reverse the results of the national survey.

Arlington Police Sgt. Dave Tooley said he believes the court tours may help prevent crimes as well as educate children about law enforcement. "The more you understand anything, the more likely you are to respect it." he said.

Court tour programs such as Arlington's "have been a great success where they have been instituted," Carrico said. "I would like to see them, however, expand into every corner of the commonwealth."