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Fascinating Commonwealth’s Attorney Race in Chesterfield

I have been following the CA’s race in Chesterfield (I note nobody accuses me in C’field of election meddling like people did when I supported Bill Janis!) and here is an article from a debate I desperately wanted to see live in person but it happened to be our 25th Anniversary and I wanted to live to see the election!  🙂

Republican John Childrey defended the record of the Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, where he’s worked for more than 15 years, while Democrat Scott Miles pledged to bring sweeping changes. The candidates at times traded barbs regarding figures the moderator made central to the forum: African-Americans are arrested at nearly twice the rate of white people in Chesterfield, and the county has among the highest arrest rates for possession of marijuana in Virginia. Last year, the county’s chief prosecutor office collected the second-highest amount in the state from civil asset forfeiture, in which money and property are taken from alleged offenders before a conviction. That’s according to the national research nonprofit Vera Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union and the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Two issues worthy of debate:  Civil Asset Forfeiture and racial disparity in arrests etc.  The GOP candidate admitted the disparity but suggested it was not due to race:

“I accept the fact that the rate of incarceration of African-Americans in Virginia is higher than their population at large,” Childrey said, adding that he doesn’t look at race when deciding whether or not to bring charges against someone. “I don’t know those answers [to the disparities], but I think it is important to look into them.”

I agree with Childrey on all points.  I am sure he is no racist and nor is the office he works for.  And it is critical to look at the disparities and try to find answers.

But Miles said this:

Miles pushed for change, describing a broken cash bail system the county heavily relies on that hurts the poor; a mass incarceration problem fueled by unnecessary prosecution of nonviolent drug offenders and, after the debate, a state funding formula that awards commonwealth’s attorneys for higher felony convictions.

“The percentage of people who are people of color who are defendants in marijuana cases is higher than the percentage of people of color in the general population and also higher than the percentage of people of color who use marijuana. The statistics tell us it is there,” Miles said. “That calls for a policy response.”

To change that reality, Miles said he would push for an initiative similar to one that operates in Richmond, which allows first offenders arrested for marijuana possession to have their cases dismissed if they complete community service, among other things. He also said he doesn’t see third-, fourth-, fifth or even tenth-time offenders as a public safety risk.

This is breathtakingly radical.  I am not sure I’d say a tenth-time or even a third-time pot offender would avoid jail if Sanders were Hanover CA (never fear, Trip Chalkley, I DON’T WANT that office, no offense…) but there are limited resources in the court system and the jail, too (The citation of $132 per night for jailing an offender – could just buy out say the Delta Hotel at the weekend rate for less!) and those choice jail spots should go to threats to public safety.

But what about civil asset fortfeiture?  No CAF was not created by fascists or even well-meaning libs; it’s origins is set in the English common law.  But it is out of control in many jurisdictions.  I would abolish it altogether (subject to the contraband exception and maybe other rare situations I have not considered yet) but if that is too radical, I would use the proceeds for civil legal aid programs.

Childrey said this on CAF:

Childrey also pushed back against changes to civil asset forfeiture, including requiring a conviction before the office seizes money or property from someone. Requiring a conviction could, Childrey said, incentivize a prosecutor to reach for “the pot of gold.”

I think this argument proves too much: If the CA’s office might be tempted to push for the conviction to get the goodies, why won’t law enforcement be tempted to get the goodies when they arrest someone?

Here is what Scott Miles said about CAF:

Miles said he would embrace a policy implemented in Henrico: making sure someone has an attorney to guide them through the criminal and civil trial choices as they seek to retrieve their property and defend themselves against criminal charges.

The amazing thing that I read was this from the GOP nominee:

Childrey and Scott also agreed that there is room to advocate for raising Virginia’s low larceny threshold that spurs more felony convictions, and that license suspensions for crimes unrelated to driving should be reduced.

“I think it is pernicious and a tool the General Assembly uses to punish folks for crimes that are unrelated to public safety,” Childrey said of driver’s license penalties.

That is, as to the driver’s license penalties, identical to what Miles said at the Spanish radio show.  I am not at all sure I even now agree -people should not drive without a proper license or if that license has been suspended or revoked.  And the reason for the suspension or revocation is critical.

But there is a disturbing item (emphasis added):

After the debate, Childrey said his advisers had counseled against him participating in any debate sponsored by organizations advocating for radical change in the criminal justice system, but he felt it was important for voters to hear from both candidates. He told the audience that a $50 million grant from a George Soros’ Open Society Foundation to the ACLU to drive down mass incarceration should be taken into account, and that his experience shows he is a public safety advocate.

The Soros card is been played!  Now I will say Soros and I are on opposite sides on many issues.  Groups linked to Soros have given contributions to district attorney races throughout the nation so I did examine Miles’ filings and one Soros-linked PAC and could not find a tie between the Democrat and any Soros group.

I am not ready to endorse but I do like Scott Miles.  I would vote Miles if I were a Chesterfield voter.




About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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