Next year in Virginia, the most powerful elected official in our criminal justice system will be up for election in most counties, and in an unexpected turn of events for Chesterfield County, voting day is coming early.
All indications are the outcome of that race will have statewide implications for 2019.
On July 1, Billy Davenport officially stepped down from the post he has occupied for over 30 years, as the Commonwealth’s attorney for Chesterfield County. During his tenure as chief prosecutor to a county that is home to more than 350,000 people, his discretion has had a tremendous impact on the lives of his constituents, as he and his staff prosecuted thousands upon thousands of cases.
He decided whether to take a criminal case to trial and what charges to bring, if any, once they were there. He negotiated thousands of plea deals and chose whether to recommend diversion or incarceration. He sought the death penalty and decided if police officers should be prosecuted for excessive or deadly use of force. He was first elected in 1988 and served eight terms. Looking as far back as election results allow, 1995, he never saw a challenger.
This is an all too familiar story for Virginia’s Commonwealth’s attorney elections – more than 70 percent of these races are completely unopposed. As a result, positions with unbelievable power are frequently left unchecked for decades, but we can change that this year. It’s time to find out who your Commonwealth’s attorney is and where they stand on the issues you care about.
If you live in Chesterfield, get to know your candidates. CAs are the most powerful actors in our criminal justice system and they should be using their discretion to serve justice, help end mass incarceration, and reduce the racial disparities we see in our jails and prisons.
The ACLU of Virginia wants you to know what to look out for as you go to the polls this November. Your Commonwealth’s attorney should:
- Have a dedication to serving justice rather than winning cases and getting convictions. That philosophy should show up in everything their office does – from internal and external communications to their prosecutorial policies and hiring practices.
- Make a firm commitment to ending mass incarceration and expanding diversion programs that prioritize rehabilitation over punishment.
- Pledge to publish all policies and protocols regarding prosecution guidelines, police-involved incidents, bail recommendations, fines and fees, diversion programs, plea bargains, civil asset forfeiture, and immigration considerations.
- Adopt a policy requiring a criminal conviction before seizing property from the accused.
- Vehemently oppose any attempt to criminalize either a doctor performing or a patient seeking an abortion.
- Make a commitment to stop prosecuting low level marijuana possession or at minimum use the power of their office to show support for marijuana decriminalization in the General Assembly.
- Support raising the felony larceny threshold to $1,500 or more so we can scale back the horrific effects of over-criminalization. Until it is raised, prosecute theft as a misdemeanor for values less than $1,500.
- Eliminate the use of cash bail within their office and pledge to recommend, for all legally permissible cases, presumptive release of defendants without a price tag.
The ACLU of Virginia will never take sides or endorse a candidate, but voters need to be informed of what is at stake in 2019 and where their Commonwealth’s attorney should be on the issues. So get involved! Ask questions!
If you live in Chesterfield County, stay tuned. We will be holding a first-of-its-kind Commonwealth’s Attorney Candidate Forum on Oct. 23 during which residents will get an opportunity to hear from the candidates themselves on these important issues. For more information, sign up for our action alerts here and subscribe to receive all our email updates here.
Candidates should know these issues are important to you and you expect to hear where they stand if they expect to have your vote.
Want to play a more active role in raising awareness about Commonwealth's attorneys? Print and share this one-pager on the importance of CAs in criminal justice reform.