Top prosecutors from across Northern Virginia are calling on state lawmakers to take up several criminal justice reform measures at the upcoming General Assembly session, including abolishing the death penalty statewide.
Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice, a coalition of 12 commonwealth's attorneys, sent a letter this week to state leaders asking for "commonsense criminal justice reforms to make their communities safer and the commonwealth’s justice system more fair and equitable."
The coalition includes Prince William County Commonwealth' Attorney Amy Ashworth, Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Buta Biberaj, Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano and Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney Bryan Porter, as well as prosecutors from Henrico, Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth, Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
An end to cash bail, the death penalty, mandatory minimum sentencing and the state's "three strikes" rule for felony offenses are among the reforms the coalition wants to see lawmakers address during the next General Assembly session, which begins Jan. 13.
In November, Virginia lawmakers finalized a sprawling package of criminal justice reform bills following a special legislative session that stretched nearly 12 weeks.
Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades, passed reforms that touch on every aspect of the state’s criminal justice system, from traffic stops to prison sentences.
"We supported many of the groundbreaking criminal justice reforms that you and your colleagues in the General Assembly implemented in the August special session," the letter to lawmakers said. "In the coming legislative session, we encourage you to build on these reforms and continue to make the commonwealth a national leader in promoting justice."
The prosectors' requests include:
Automated, automatic, and free expungement of criminal records for formerly system-involved community members: "Our communities are safest when we more fully reintegrate those convicted of crimes into society, instead of forcing them down a path of recidivism," the coalition wrote.
End mandatory minimum sentences: "We wrote in advance of the special session in support of the General Assembly striking mandatory minimums from state law. We once again urge you and your colleagues to implement this critical reform. Mandatory minimums prevent judges from taking an individualized, holistic approach to each sentence based on the specific circumstances of a given case," the letter said.
End cash bail: "Cash bail leads to a two-tiered justice system – one for the rich and one for everyone else. Those who sit behind bars while awaiting trial are exposed to significant collateral consequences, like the loss of a job or even custody of their children," the coalition said.
Abolish the death penalty: "The death penalty is unjust, racially biased, and ineffective at deterring crime," the letter reads. "We have more equitable and effective means of keeping our communities safe and addressing society’s most heinous crimes. It is past time for Virginia to end this antiquated practice."
End the “three strikes” felony enhancement for petty larceny offenses: "The collateral consequences associated with felonies far exceed those of misdemeanors," the letter said. "State law currently saddles too many Virginians with these collateral consequences by transforming a misdemeanor larceny offense into a felony offense when an individual has previously been convicted of misdemeanor larceny offenses."