Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Virginia ACLU issues report on Commonwealth's Attorneys Unparalleled Power… No Surprise the President of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys Disagrees

In 2007 the Hanover Count Asst. CA told my husband’s attorney he had 5 minutes to take the Alford plea deal or they'd release his photograph, name, address and list of charges to the local 6'oclock news at the second preliminary hearing (in late October) because they weren’t prepared at the first one (early September) which was more than 2.5 months after Hanover filed charges based on an accusation alone. This is all before a Grand Jury is convened about the case. AND in Virginia there is no Discovery for the Defense it’s called “Trial By Ambush” so when you’re taking an Alford Plea you actually have no idea what they do or don’t have and if it’s a sexual accusation, that IS the evidence entered into the court record.

So………… do Virginia’s Commonwealth Attorney’s and Assistant CA’s hold all the cards, weald too much power and strive for a perfect conviction rate over seeking justice or the truth? 

I believe they do! 

Nice work ACLU of VA, these serious problems should have been highlighted years ago.

Mary Devoy 

ACLU issues report on commonwealth's attorneys, June 15, 2016
By Frank Green

A report issued by the ACLU of Virginia today seeks to educate voters about what it says is the undue power of commonwealth's attorneys and to encourage more candidates to seek the office. 

“Unparalleled Power," a 32-page report, says that commonwealth’s attorneys - the top prosecutor in 120 Virginia localities - ran uncontested for office in 72 percent of elections from 2005 to 2015. Forty percent of the offices did not have a single contested race during that period, the study found. 

"Local, elected prosecutors in Virginia hold tremendous influence over the criminal justice system but face few challenges to their authority," according to the ACLU. 

The powers of commonwealth's attorneys include deciding whether a case will go to trial and, if so, as a misdemeanor or felony; insisting a defendant be kept in jail before trial without bail; require a jury trial over the objection of the defendant; and withhold information such as police reports and witness statements about a case from the defendant. 

"For years, commonwealth's attorneys have opposed commonsense reforms to Virginia's criminal justice system," the ACLU report alleges. "Instead, Virginia's prosecutors have lobbied the General Assembly to ramp up the failed War on Drugs." 

The prosecutors, says the ACLU, have an important self-interest in opposing change: "Virginia's draconian sentencing laws - from mandatory minimums to the abolition of parole to jury sentencing - fundamentally shift influence over outcomes from judges to prosecutors." 

The report says that only commonwealth's attorneys have the authority to decide how many charges a person will face at trial and whether those charges will carry mandatory minimum sentences. Because the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved by plea bargains, a prosecutor is more likely to decide a criminal defendant’s fate than a judge or jury, the ACLU says. 

Prosecutors, however, strongly disagree with much in the study. 

"None of us had any idea this was coming along, we had no idea we have 'unparalleled power,'" said LaBravia Jenkins, the Fredericksburg commonwealth's attorney and president of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys. 
"The premise of this report is totally off base,' and so slanted as to be inaccurate, she said. For instance, she said the defendant also has a choice in whether a case goes to trial: he or she can accept a plea agreement or not," Jenkins said after scanning the report today. 

Also, she said each side decides whether they want a jury trial or not. "It's not 'unparalleled,' because the defendant has a parallel power to demand a jury trial," Jenkins said. "We will study it more and maybe just address each of the charges individually at a later time."  

The report says that once elected, local prosecutors often stay in office for decades "wielding broad discretion in how cases are handled while also lobbying aggressively against reforms to the criminal justice system that polls show the public supports."
"Several local (commonwealth's attorneys) have held the same office for more than 40 years, with one in six having been in office for more than 20 years," says the report. 

Also, elections for commonwealth's attorneys are held along with those for other local offices in off-year elections with no federal or statewide races on the ballot. Voter participation can more than double when there are other, more prominent races helping to drive turnout. 

The report concludes that, “The interactions between (commonwealth's attorneys) and the voters who put them in office may decide whether Virginia enacts meaningful criminal justice reforms.” 

“By engaging with (commonwealth's attorneys), cultivating reform-minded candidates, and showing up at the polls, voters can reclaim the power and change a broken criminal justice system," the ACLU report contends.