Commonwealth’s Attorney Announces New Policies & Review

by Lee Hernly, Editor
Bryan Porter, Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Alexandria, Virginia, announced three important new policies with regards to non-violent offenses.

Bryan Porter, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Alexandria, Virginia, announced three important new policies with regards to non-violent offenses. He also announced that he is conducting a comprehensive review of his office’s policies. Porter has named the review “Vision 2020.”

Porter said: “Prosecutors wield a significant amount of authority. We affect the community in a variety of ways, some obvious, other more indirect. Given the authority inherent in the office, and the executive discretion that is bestowed upon us, prosecutors must be introspective, thoughtful and willing to change practices where warranted. New ideas must be embraced, and old, non-effective ones modified or dropped altogether.”

“To this end, I am currently conducting a top-to-bottom review of my office’s policies with regards to a number of important areas. For example, I am reviewing how we treat juvenile offenders and whether to expand our misdemeanor diversion program. My term in office has already produced results, two shining examples of which are our Mental Health Initiative and the Treatment Court program which commences this summer. I have made other significant changes, such as eliminating recommendations of cash bail for low-level offenses and I am proud of my service on the statewide task force that produced a new, far more transparent criminal discovery rule. I anticipate the review should take about 6 months, at which time I will release a summary of the innovative programs, reforms and initiatives that I have undertaken.”

Porter also announced the three new policies detailed below:

  1. Possession of Alcohol/Drunk in Public While Interdicted
    With regards to so-called ‘interdiction cases,’ Porter said: “I am concerned about the efficacy and fairness of the practice of interdicting ‘habitual drunkards.’ An archaic code section allows people to be “interdicted,” after which they face more serious charges for alcohol-related arrests. The initial reasons for this regime may have been well-intentioned; however, people charged with “interdiction” offenses now receive short jail sentences and no treatment for their underlying problems. I believe that we can attack these situations more effectively. To that end, I have enacted a moratorium on the filing of any motion seeking to declare someone an ‘interdicted person.’ I am reviewing the current list of interdicted persons with an eye to significantly decreasing the number of people on it or perhaps eliminating it entirely. My office will continue to prosecute violent offenses that attend an alcohol-related arrest, if supported by the evidence.”
  2. Dismissal of Driving on Suspended Charges for Fail to Pay Fines and Costs
    “In the most recent session, the General Assembly changed the law regarding driver’s license suspensions. Effective July 1, citizens will no longer have their driving privileges suspended for non-payment of fines or costs. Additionally, those whose licenses are currently suspended for non-payment will have the suspensions lifted as of July by operation of law. I am pleased to report that I anticipated the changes to suspended driving licenses well in advance and announced changes to my office’s policies regarding such cases three years ago.”

    “Our office continues to see driving on suspended for failure to pay cases because the new law and the lifting of suspensions does not go into effect for 7 weeks. This is patently unfair; those on the wrong side of the July 1 date could face conviction. Therefore, effective immediately, my office will move to dismiss all driving on suspended cases in which the charge is related to the non-payment of fines and costs.”

    “I note that these policies do not relate to suspensions or revocations related to drunk driving. My office will continue to diligently prosecute such cases.”

  3. Declination of Indicting Felony Driving Charges for Fail to Pay Fines or Costs
    Porter also announced that his office will no longer indict a specific set of driving-related cases, known as Habitual Offender charges, as felonies. Porter said: “This venerable code section allowed certain people to be declared a Habitual Offender(H.O.) for non-payment of driving fines and costs. The H.O. declaration causes a “super-suspension” of the person’s driving privilege, in some cases resulting in a felony charge that carried a 1-year mandatory minimum sentence simply for driving. Recognizing the unnecessarily onerous situation this law created, the Assembly changed it several years ago and no new H.O.s are being declared. However, those declared before the legislative change were “grandfathered” and my office continues to see a number of H.O. cases a year. I believe a felony with a 1-year mandatory minimum for non-dangerous driving is overkill and we will no longer present felony H.O. charges to the Grand Jury.”

    Porter concluded his remarks by noting: “My duty is to seek justice for the entire community—including persons charged with offenses— and that duty requires me to implement thoughtful policies with regard to low-level and non-violent crimes. I have a concomitant duty to protect the community from violence. I pledge that I will never waver with regard to that commitment and will continue to hold violent offenders accountable for crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, gang offenses and shootings.”

    “I anticipate announcing additional changes to our policies over the next six months and I intend to release a summary of my policy reforms when the review is complete.”

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