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Saturday, July 30, 2016

PROTECT’s Virginia Child Protection Accountability System is Intentionally 'Hazardous' to Virginia Judge’s Careers

PROTECT (which is based out of Tennessee) has favorite Virginia Legislators to get Their Legislation proposed at the annual VA General Assembly session for their Legislative Liaison Camille Cooper (who resides in VA). 

This is the same organization who’s PROTECT Act in Washington D.C. has allowed for administrative warrants for sexual charges across the country and who lobby for Alicia’s Law from state-to-state. 

They take great pride in strong-arming, having their supporters flood Legislators phone lines, and shaming Legislators in Committee meetings and to the media who don’t immediately side with PROTECT. PROTECT’s supporters regularly leave Facebook messages suggesting death by the States or by the public, physical castration and forced organ donation for RSO’s and PROTECT allows such vigilante and criminal comments to remain on their site. PROTECT itself has gleefully stated that RSO’s who are sent to prison will get what’s coming to them by being raped by other inmates. Nice, huh? 

Since starting this blog in 2013 I have mentioned Camille Cooper a few times:
Ø       November 5, 2015            http://goo.gl/Kd1ZEX
Ø       August 29, 2015                http://goo.gl/IdJ5Mi
Ø       April 25, 2014                     http://goo.gl/KM9UbY
Ø       December 8, 2013            http://goo.gl/M4KVsT 

Well a few years back (in 2012) PROTECT got a Bill passed to create the Virginia Child Protection Accountability System. Everyone (Legislators, Governor, Virginia Judges, etc) knew that the data gathered from this “system” would be used against Virginia Judges by PROTECT during the Judges reappointment hearings by the General Assembly if PROTECT didn’t like the sentences being given by the judges in sex crime cases. I sat in the 2012 Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission meetings while the Judges discussed the true intent of the new law/system and I posted about those meetings on my old website which is no longer accessible. Now in 2016/2017 PROTECT is in Minnesota trying to get the same system implemented.

2 days ago on PROTECT’s Facebook page they posted a message to their supporters and then a second message the next day on how Judges have in fact changed their sentencing because of the Virginia Accountability System, not because the evidence or defendant warrant the change. 
 
There are crimes that deserve lengthy prison sentences and I personally think plea deals should be eliminated completely from the U.S. Courts, BUT citizen’s criminal sentences should NOT be based on a Judge’s fear his/her reappointment by the Legislature  is at risk because one Victims Group is going to stick-their-nose-in and complain about them.  

Virginia has Risk Assessments, Sentencing Guidelines and Mandatory Minimums which all layout the recommended sentences for Judges to give in sex crimes within the Commonwealth. Also in Virginia ‘no registration’ as an RSO is NOT allowed in plea deals, if the statute says Sex Offender Registration then it’s a done deal, they register. Plus….no parole in VA! Per the data presented at the VCSC over the last 5 years I’ve been attending we know for a fact that Virginia’s Judges are well within the recommended sentences.
 
If PROTECT doesn’t like the sex crime sentencing process and guidelines in Virginia then they should lobby to change them, but instead they took the easiest (and lowest) route by going after the Judges jobs. 

Mary Devoy
 

PROTECT’s Recent Facebook posts:

July 28th:
When PROTECT kicked off our Sunlight Project in Virginia, we went after public information aggressively, using both legislation to require public release of data and the Freedom of Information Act. A picture began to emerge of performance by child protection agencies, prosecutors and judges. PROTECT focused on judges, who are appointed and reappointed by the state legislature, not the voters.  

Our Judicial Accountability Project looked at sentencing patterns on crimes against children. Very few child sexual assault cases make it all the way through the criminal process, and of those, the public has a right to know how these sex offenders are being held accountable.   

County by county, city by city. What we found in the sentencing data was not surprising to us: we’d been hearing as much anecdotally for decades. But it was surprising to the members of the General Assembly, who set penalty ranges for these crimes and it was to the public.  

PROTECT’s project illuminated the overwhelming degree of lenient sentencing resulting from state-sanctioned agreements, or plea deals. Judges were rubber stamping ridiculously low sentences for crimes as horrific as rape of a child, and aggravated sexual battery of a child under 13, by force, with injury. 

For the first time in history, Judges had to come to their re-appointment hearing defending their records
 

July 29th:
Before PROTECT’s Judicial Accountability Project in Virginia, judges approved sweetheart plea deals in child abuse cases every day without much worry about public scrutiny.  

But after numerous judges faced withering questions about their records in reappointment hearings—entirely due to PROTECT’s Sunlight Project—word spread like wildfire round the Commonwealth that rubber-stamping light sentences in cases involving child victims could be hazardous to your career. PROTECT’s Sunlight Project became the topic of heated debate and discussion among prosecutors, judges, and was even the subject of a university course.

What’s at stake in the courtroom process and what does it look like when the culture starts to change? 

Last year, authorities brought charges against 27-year-old William Thomas Gendron, after a teenage girl’s texts to a friend revealed she had been raped by Gendron at the age of 7 or 8. Prosecutors, as is often the case, offered Gendron a plea bargain of just five months in jail. That’s an everyday occurrence in courthouses across the nation, but it wasn’t the end of the story. 

When the plea agreement was presented to Judge Michael Levy, he rejected it outright, saying it was too lenient. Prosecutors then went down the hall to another judge, Charles Sharp. Once again, they were sent packing.  

When they got to Judge Number Three, Victoria Willis, there was no easy plea deal. The case went before a jury. Instead of five months, Gendron was sentenced to 26 years behind bars (65 years with 39 years suspended).