As Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney, I would...
Address racial disparity
Prosecutors must confront issues of racial disparity in the justice system by looking closely at relevant data and working to promote equity and a healthier, more cooperative relationship with the communities they serve. Extensive evidence shows that racial disparity exists at every stage of the justice system. Possible causes include over-policing of communities of color and overt and implicit bias.
A study of racial disparities in the adult criminal justice system is currently underway in Albemarle County and Charlottesville. It will be important for the Commonwealth’s Attorney to use the findings of this study to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Not only will I do that, but, in addition, I am committed to tracking relevant statistics and releasing data from the prosecutor’s office that can help the community end racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.
End the poverty trap of fines and fees
Court fines and costs can trap poor defendants in a cycle of incarceration and debt, and fines and fees can be unfair. A $200 fine or fee can pose a minor problem for an affluent person while causing a financial calamity for an indigent one, perpetuating our justice system’s bias against low-income offenders. Fines can be an appropriate consequence for criminal behavior, especially when imposed as an alternative to incarceration, but I will always be mindful of the impact fines can have on people who are in poverty.
Refrain from seeking a death sentence
As Commonwealth’s Attorney of Albemarle County, I will never seek the death penalty. This is something I have thought a lot about because I have first hand experience representing four men who faced the death penalty. I am immeasurably grateful the lives of the men I represented were spared. As I think back on my experience with each of these men, it's telling that they were all African-American. We know from numerous studies that the death penalty is applied in a racially discriminatory manner, and this is wrong. I will use my discretion as a prosecutor to seek a life sentence without parole in capital murder cases. There are many good reasons to refrain from seeking death sentences, more than I can include in this brief overview of issues. Please click here, to read a full explanation of my position on the death penalty.
Reduce the harm of marijuana prosecution
Marijuana should be decriminalized. I believe the Virginia General Assembly should immediately decriminalize marijuana. Prosecuting citizens for possessing small quantities of marijuana wastes police and government resources that could be put to much better use.
But that's not enough. The prosecution of marijuana possession raises substantial equal justice concerns because of the disproportionate impact such prosecutions have on young people, poor people, and people of color. That's why I also support establishment of an expungement process for past marijuana convictions to eliminate the severe and unjust collateral effect of previous convictions.
In Virginia, even if a prosecutor decides not to participate in a misdemeanor marijuana prosecution, that does not end the prosecution. The police can present evidence without a prosecutor on the case, and the Court may convict. The results can be devastating, particularly for the poor: suspension of a driver's license, and loss of access to public housing, SNAP benefits, and federal education support. If elected Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney, I will use appropriate discretion to reduce the harm that comes from prosecution of marijuana possession cases.
Change Incarceration practices
Increase use of diversion
I will increase the use of diversion programs like the therapeutic docket for people with serious mental illness and the drug court. Treating the root cause of certain crimes is my priority rather than punishing the symptoms. Programs that divert people from jail or prison – or from the justice system entirely – can save the taxpayers money, reduce reoffending, and diminish the collateral harms of criminal prosecution. These programs keep people in the community instead of locked up in enormously expensive jails and prisons. Participants in such programs are intensively supervised to reduce the risk of harm to the community while they are receiving treatment, and participants are required to work, attend school, or perform community service and to support their families and pay taxes. Diversion is especially appropriate for people suffering from drug addiction or mental illness.
Treat kids like kids
The adolescent brain continues to develop until around the age of 25. Because of this, and because most young people who commit crimes don’t continue to do so in adulthood, it is best to keep most kids in Juvenile Court. Studies show that long-term outcomes for kids are substantially better when their cases remain in Juvenile Court, which has the capacity to meet the specialized treatment needs of adolescents. Removing kids from Juvenile Court and prosecuting them as adults should be a last resort employed only in the most aggravated circumstances.
Albemarle County has far too many people on probation for far longer than we need and can afford. Unnecessary probation supervision takes up precious law enforcement resources and can even be counter-productive. I’ve seen how people who are otherwise at low risk of reoffending end up incarcerated for technical violations – like failing to provide notice of address changes or missing appointments – that have little to do with public safety. We can use other sanctions for technical probation violations that are more effective than incarceration. The savings to Albemarle County taxpayers from reducing incarceration can be put toward more effective public safety practices.