Restoration of Rights
I wholeheartedly support the restoration of rights to those convicted of a felony and welcome them back into the civic life of our community. As I said at the time of Governor McAuliffe’s 2016 restoration initiative, I fully supported the goal but was concerned about the implementation and whether the action was even constitutional. The en masse restoration put violent felons on a fast-track to having their gun rights restored which I found to be hugely problematic. In addition to this oversight, too many individuals whose rights were restored were still on probation, owed restitution to crime victims, and in some instances, were still incarcerated at the time their rights were restored. The Virginia Supreme Court agreed with my position and the governor took the appropriate steps to comply with the Court’s ruling.
An initiative I championed early in my tenure as the elected CA is our Second Chance Program. Second Chance is a substance use prevention and early intervention program for middle and high school students that gives participants the opportunity to avoid being charged with a criminal offense. The focus of the program is working with our youth who are in the beginning stages of drug or alcohol use. Parents, guardians, school administrators, as well as police, can refer a young person to the program. More broadly, my office works with Juvenile Court probation and with defense counsel to craft dispositions that avoid a conviction in a multitude of cases that come before the Juvenile Court.
My office is very judicious when it comes to trying kids as adults. In the year just ended, as well as in 2017, my office did not certify any juvenile to be tried as an adult. Additionally, I’m proud to report that by this spring, the Arlington and Falls Church community will not have a single youth committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice, which is an accomplishment we can be proud of.
Finally, it needs to be stressed that School Resource Officers (SROs) assigned to work in our community’s schools do not view their roles as enforcing discipline. Consequently, the instances in which a young person is brought before the Juvenile Court by law enforcement are exclusively due to violations of the state or county code. A host of young people involved as first-time offenders are diverted from court at the outset never having to experience a criminal prosecution which is a process I wholeheartedly support and will seek to expand. I will continue to work with our Juvenile Court intake unit on additional means of diverting youthful offenders while protecting the rights of crime victims.
My office has been a leader in protecting the rights of LGBT crime victims. Long before the law required it, my office insisted that cases of LGBT intimate partner violence be heard in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court as opposed to the General District Court. That insistence recognized that LGBT intimate partner relationships deserve equal treatment with other intimate partner relationships in our broader community.
I applaud the efforts of the Arlington County Police Department to continue to lead our region in its diverse makeup with so many gay and lesbian officers in uniform and in supervisory positions. These inclusive hiring practices bolster my own office’s ability to work more closely and effectively with the LGBT community which too often feels as if their voices are not adequately heard by the criminal justice system.
We never inquire as to the immigration status of any crime victim or witness. Whether undocumented or here as a legal resident, it is of no moment in seeking justice for immigrants who are often preyed upon by members of their own community, as well as the community at large. My office routinely works with immigrant rights lawyers in approving U-Visas for undocumented individuals who assist in the prosecution of offenders, helping us hold them accountable for wrongdoing. It is especially gratifying to sign a U-Visa for a woman victimized by an intimate partner who nonetheless has the strength and stamina to testify in court and seek justice for her and her family and thereby gain the opportunity to remain in this country legally.
With my leadership, we launched Arlington's first Drug Court. Now entering its 6th year, this sentencing alternative program empowers those addicted to these powerful drugs to get back on track and avoid incarceration while giving them the needed tools to stay clean and sober and become law-abiding citizens. Participants appear weekly in court, undergo regular drug screening, and participate in a program of rigorous community supervision. Our graduates leave the program much better equipped to avoid substance abuse and go on to lead productive lives free from dependence and criminal behavior.
I am a founding supporter of Second Chance -- a drug and alcohol intervention and prevention initiative aimed at keeping our middle school and high school students in school and not under supervision. Second Chance is a diversion program designed to help youth who are in the early stages of drug or alcohol use who are referred to the program by parents or guardians, or by law enforcement. The classes teach students to deal with peer pressure, how to make better, more healthy choices, and the harmful effects of alcohol and drugs. Successful completion results in no public record of the offense.
The Code of Virginia establishes the process for determining the pre-trial release and/or detention of a defendant. The law balances a defendant's legitimate liberty interest against the equally compelling community interest in public safety and interest in ensuring a defendant appears for court. My office no longer requests cash bonds in cases involving non-violent misdemeanors unrelated to drug dealing or drunk driving. An individual who is not a danger to the community or a risk of flight should never be held without bond while pending trial. Justice is not served when defendants on bond commit new crimes in the community while their cases are pending or fail to appear for mandated court appearances. I am committed to working with our local delegation and others in Richmond to expand the use of pre-trial services that help ensure individuals released with a cash bond remain law abiding and show up for their court date.
My policy is never to initiate a civil asset forfeiture proceeding without a concomitant and underlying criminal charge. I believe this is an appropriate safeguard against some of the abuses identified at the federal level and elsewhere. Additionally, my office threshold for seizing assets is $500. The Virginia statutory scheme lays out a fair and balanced process that rightfully places the burden on the Commonwealth to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the seized property is subject to forfeiture. When used judiciously as we do in my office, civil asset forfeiture is a useful tool that prevents criminals from profiting from their illicit and illegal conduct.
Sexual Assault Response Team Manual
At my instigation and for the first time in Arlington County, a multi-disciplinary, cooperative effort dedicated to improving services to victims of sexual assault resulted in a state-of-the-art manual -- the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Protocol. This initiative strengthens our community's ability to investigate and successfully prosecute sexual assault cases and brings offenders to justice. The Arlington SART works across agencies to create a consistent and coordinated response to sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Having a strong SART in a community is associated with greater victim participation in the criminal justice system, as well as fewer reporting delays, better collection of forensic evidence, more arrests and stronger prosecutions.
For the entirety of my service as the elected Commonwealth's Attorney, criminal defendants have benefitted from my office's "open file" discovery policy. Under the current Virginia Supreme Court rules, a criminal defendant is not entitled to review copies of police reports, detective supplements, or witness statements related to their case unless it contains what's known as "exculpatory evidence." I believe this limited form of criminal discovery is unfair to defendants. As a result, I adopted a far broader, "open file" policy. I have continued to advocate for expanded criminal discovery statewide and, along with the Virginia Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys, fully support the rule changes recently adopted by the Virginia Supreme Court that in many ways mirror what my office adopted years ago.