The Bulletin

Va. Senate rejects new AG’s proposal to create statewide ‘super prosecutors’

By: - January 26, 2022 4:07 pm

Attorney General Jason Miyares flashes a thumbs up in the Senate gallery. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Lawmakers in the Virginia Senate rejected legislation requested by the state’s new Republican attorney general that would have allowed him to overrule local prosecutors when police disagreed with their charging decisions.

Attorney General Jason Miyares, who ran on a law-and-order platform despite the position’s limited criminal law enforcement powers, made the legislation a centerpiece of his campaign.

It was always a longshot given Democrats maintained control of the Senate. But the proposal was also roundly rejected by a bi-partisan association of locally elected commonwealth’s attorneys around the state.

“The Virginia Association of Commonwealths Attorneys opposes this bill basically on the principle that we don’t believe the legislature should be centralizing local criminal justice,” said Derek Davis, the commonwealth’s attorney in Surry County, speaking on behalf of the group before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

In a last-ditch effort to save the bill, its Senate patron, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, narrowed the bill to only apply to child sex offenses, arguing that the attorney general’s office already has the power to enforce child pornography laws and internet crimes.

Miyares’ office argued that the change would merely make more resources available to help local prosecutors tackle complex cases that can span multiple jurisdictions. He said it would result in “a class of super prosecutors focused on child sex offense cases.”

Democrats on the committee argued that the attorney general’s office could already provide the assistance on a voluntary basis.

Miyares had pitched the legislation as a way to push back against a new class of criminal-justice-reform minded prosecutors who have been elected in recent years. It was supported by associations that represent police officers around the state.

One Democrat on the committee, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, supported the bill, citing a recent case in which a man convicted of sexually abusing a child in Fairfax County was sentenced to 17 years as part of a plea deal, drawing outrage from family members.

In addition to drawing opposition from local commonwealth’s attorneys, a lobbying group representing defense lawyers also opposed the change.

“It’s unusual for prosecutors and defense attorneys to be on the same side,” observed Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, who chairs the Senate’s judiciary committee, which heard the bill.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.