Law Enforcement IssuesThe enforcement of our criminal laws and protection of Virginians from crime is perhaps the most fundamental government function undertaken by state government. Historically, Virginians have also led the nation in ensuring that our criminal justice system is fair. The Virginia Declaration of Rights was drafted in Fairfax County by George Mason and was the foundation for the Bill of Rights constituting the first ten amendments to the United States’ Constitution.

While it is easy to say that one is going to be tough on crime and propose new laws criminalizing new behaviors, convicting criminals requires the Commonwealth to actually invest resources in prosecutions. Largely because of television shows, many juries expect first-class forensic services before convicting criminals. As an attorney, I see the effects of these shortcomings daily while defending criminal cases in Virginia’s justice system.

In May of this year, the Director of Virginia's Department of Forensic Science testified before the United States Congress and said "for the state and local laboratories there has been a lack of resources (money, staff, training, and equipment) necessary to promote and maintain strong forensic science laboratory systems. . . . As a State Crime Lab Director, I know that this has in fact been the situation for many of us for some time." Virginia’s inadequate funding of its criminal justice obligations has left us with many shortcomings:

  • Many court personnel are paid wages so low that turnover is rampant and experienced people leave too often.
  • Many Virginia prosecutors’ offices have no or limited paralegal support limiting their ability to comply with required discovery obligations or court filing obligations.
  • Law enforcement lacks some of the latest technology such as in-car video which provides clear recorded evidence for prosecutions and has been used to solve crime when officers are injured in the line of duty.
  • Enforcement of our drinking-while-intoxicated (DWI) laws has suffered as the state waited until breath alcohol equipment is virtually broken and out-dated before replacing it for lack of funds.

Also, Virginia’s U.S. Senator Jim Webb has introduced legislation to fund a national commission to explore the way we conduct criminal justice in the United States. Virginia should also keep close tabs on this commission to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being wisely spent prosecuting, incarcerating and rehabilitating convicted criminals.

To truly get tough on crime, we must –

  • Pay our court personnel living wages.
  • Invest in funding sufficient prosecutor positions in Virginia's jurisdictions given their caseload.
  • Fund adequate paralegal and administrative support for Virginia’s prosecutors.
  • Install video cameras in all police cruisers.
  • Adequately fund first-class forensic laboratory services.