Virginia’s Election: What It Means for the Criminal Justice System
The Commonwealth of Virginia was at the center of the nation’s attention on November 7th. That was the date of Election Day 2017. The results of both Virginia-wide and local races will have ramifications across the state for years to come. This post will look at the results in the context of the local criminal justice system and what they might mean for Central Virginia.
Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark Herring:
Mark Herring was re-elected as Virginia’s Attorney General, defeating Republican John Adams. Herring has been described as someone who was aggressively progressive in his first term as Attorney General. In fact, his opponent said that he ran against Herring because of the politically partisan way that Herring served as Attorney General.
Among the most visible decisions that Herring made was his decision to side against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban. He has also sued the Trump administration over Trump’s travel ban and handling of federal subsidies for health care. Further, he “touted his record on reducing the state’s backlog of untested rape kits, cracking down on gangs and leading a Medicaid fraud unit.”
What an Attorney General Does:
Virginia’s governmental website provides an overview of what an Attorney General does for its citizens. The office “provides legal services to the Commonwealth’s agencies, boards, commissions, colleges and universities.” This is a wide-ranging group that receives the Attorney General’s attention. The office is also defined as “the Commonwealth’s law firm.”
The rest of the definition provides the two ways that this representation is carried out. First, the AG defends “the interests of Virginians and Virginia government.” Given the nature of the position, it might be surprising to some to see the word “defending” in the definition, but that is what the Attorney General does. Increasingly, in a fractured society, this is hard to do. This is why you have accusations of “partisan politics” against Virginia’s top legal position. Second, the AG works “with law enforcement throughout the Commonwealth to prepare for emerging public safety threats and to promote successful, secure communities.” Moreover, the AG's Office handles issues dealing with child support enforcement and criminal appeals.
Lynchburg’s New Commonwealth’s Attorney:
A local race also played a role in determining the future course of the legal system in Central Virginia; in fact, it is possible that the Commonwealth’s Attorney race in Lynchburg will have a greater impact on local citizens than that of Attorney General. Bethany Harrison easily defeated Carlos Hutcherson to become Lynchburg’s new Commonwealth’s Attorney. According to her campaign materials, Harrison has prosecuted over 2,400 cases in her 11-year career as an attorney. According to local media, “Harrison campaigned on cutting crime and domestic violence and fostering community engagement in fighting lawlessness.”
A previous post in this blog has described what the Commonwealth’s Attorney does. A brief description on the OCA website says that Harrison will “deal strictly with the enforcement of the laws of Virginia, prosecuting all felony violations and misdemeanor offenses as appropriate.” At a glance, this should sound familiar because this is similar to what the Attorney General is responsible for doing at the state-level.
These two individuals – Mark Herring and Bethany Harrison – will make decisions in the future that will have an impact on the citizens of Central Virginia. Whether or not you voted for them, you should know who they are.
Likewise, if you are being prosecuted for a crime, you should know who you want to call as your defense attorney. If you are in this situation now, call or e-mail for a free consultation!
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