Virginia Prosecutor 'Reform' Efforts Include Nailing Sexting Teens With Child Porn Charges And Screwing Defense Lawyers

from the you-misspelled-'reactionary' dept

Virginia has a mixed history when it comes to handling teens and sexting. For the most part, these cases have been handled with maximum vindictiveness, resulting in teens being charged with child porn production and possession. In rare cases, prosecutors have exercised more discretion, allowing these experiences to be educational rather than punitive. But default mode is still to use the law like a weapon, rather than a tool, as if justice were somehow achieved by ruining teens’ lives forever for some stupid indiscretions.

A parent’s firsthand experience with this has resulted in him calling out Theo Stamos, Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney, for her attempt to portray herself as a reformer in her run for reelection. Jeff Edmeades’ son was railroaded by Stamos for possessing intimate photos of a teen sent to him by fellow students. Exercising her vaunted discretion, Stamos decided to force his son into a plea bargain by hitting him with the harshest charges she could.

As she does in adult cases it seems, she essentially forced a plea deal by threatening to charge him with the maximum possible charges – one felony for possession of child pornography per image. That took defending him in court off the table

The resulting plea agreement was far from ideal. His son was sentenced to supervised probation and does not have the option to have his record expunged after he’s done his time. Edmeades’ letter to the editor points out it’s actions like these that undermine Stamos’ claims that she is fixing a broken justice system from the inside.

In many places, these issues are left to the parents and/or schools to resolve. Notwithstanding this recommendation, Stamos has, on multiple occasions, chosen to prosecute these cases – not because she had to, but rather because she chose to.

Once we were in the juvenile-justice system, which is in theory oriented towards education and rehabilitation rather than punishment, we found that Stamos was very comfortable using the full power of the legal system and the ambiguity around the law in this case to pressure us into accepting a plea deal.

If this is how Ms. Stamos treats children, is it any wonder that she uses the legal system as a blunt-force instrument of punishment with adults? She can say whatever she wants about how her goal is to improve communities and be fair, but her actions speak louder than her words.

It’s not just the opinion of a parent who saw his son treated like a child pornographer for possessing photos of someone roughly his own age. It’s also the state’s defense lawyers, who have witnessed Stamos interpret “discretion” the same way she did in Edmeades’ case: maximum charges brought to ensure a steady flow of plea deals. Their letter says Stamos’ tactics make a mockery of a process that is supposed to recognize defendants’ right to a fair trial.

We are concerned that nearly 98% of felony convictions in Arlington are the result of the defendant pleading guilty, exceeding the rate in all local jurisdictions (Alexandria: 91%; Fairfax/Loudoun: 93%) and even in the federal courts (97%). We are concerned that the low incidence of trials in Arlington is mainly due to overcharging and the fear of harsh consequences if a defendant does not accept a plea bargain.

We are concerned that Arlington convicts defendants of felonies at more than twice the rate of neighboring jurisdictions, despite its very low crime rate. We are worried that this reflects a culture of overcriminalization.

That’s only one of the ways Stamos puts her finger on the scales of justice. The letter also notes she’s hampering defense efforts by making it as difficult as possible to obtain documents via discovery.

We are concerned that the Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s discovery policy, which prohibits the use of technology to obtain copies of police reports and other documents, places unique and arbitrary restrictions on the discovery process, making it needlessly difficult for defense attorneys to be prepared for trial. We believe that real open file discovery would make the process more fair for defendants and make the criminal process much more reliable and efficient.

Currently, defense lawyers must head to the court during courtroom hours and manually copy files handed over during discovery. Stamos claims this process protects the privacy of crime victims, but it’s difficult to believe details about crime victims are somehow more protected by a process that pretends it’s not actually 2019.

Theo Stamos is the only one who believes these are the practices of a criminal justice system reformer. It starts with screwing teens who made mistakes and ends with screwing their lawyers when they try to mount a defense against these trumped-up charges.

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Comments on “Virginia Prosecutor 'Reform' Efforts Include Nailing Sexting Teens With Child Porn Charges And Screwing Defense Lawyers”

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38 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So you’re cool with getting busted for having child porn on your phone that someone else sent you, right? After all, you’re probably a predator if you have that on your phone.

Oddly, no one has ever sent child porn to me, nor have I ever solicited. I’ve also never physically assaulted anyone, nor do I think juvenile records of physically violent offenders should be sealed. People don’t change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Those under 18 can understand this.

Doubtful. Teenagers tend to be dumb, and if they understood they were manufacturing child porn, they wouldn’t be taking nude selfies of themselves to send to their boyfriends/girlfriends. In this particular case it sounds like the kid was merely 13. Definitely not an age where he was equipped to understand just how dumb a thing he was doing.

Digitari says:

Re: Re:

Admit it, Your Mom hit you in the head with a brick as a small child, repeatedly

if an underage child could understand that, we wouldn’t need child porn laws, and the legal age of consent (ever heard of it?) would be 16 and not 18.

I hope you never reproduce, but if you do, your children should be removed, for their safety.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Teenagers are perfectly capable of understanding the concepts of Injustice, Bullshit, Hypocrisy, and Pretext as well.

If they were adults and engaged in the same behavior they wouldn’t be charged with a crime. The pretext of the law is that it is to protect minors and yet the enforcement only offers them harm. Given that it pads the stats of the prosecutors it is obvious that Theo Stamos is hypocritical bitch who is out for herself and everything she says is bullshit – it is all about advancing herself at the cost to the state and the community she should be serving.

We would all be better off if she was the one locked up as a felon instead of her ‘helping’.

Zof (profile) says:

Just don't go to Arlington to have fun

Don’t. Arlington doesn’t deserve your money because their cops are terrible. You will have their "peace officers" waiting outside every bar. They arrest people for "public intoxication" that are trying to get into cabs. They wait outside low income apartment buildings, and arrest people for public intoxication getting dropped off by cabs. Go somewhere else to have fun. Some place more mature, that has a better police force.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So many prosecutors go all out on these cases most of us would think were nothing, if we knew all the details. But the details are hidden and the media talks about the evil scourge of teens seeing a boob or other naughtybits & how its a slipper slope to them grabbing grannie of the street & raping her.

For fun, it would be nice to see a group look at who is being prosecuted. I’m fairly sure we will find those with the power to put up a fight aren’t facing a possible 32 billion years in jail in their cases, if they are even brought, and that low level ‘crimes’ are treated like the crime of the century with all sorts of headlines & how they could face 32 billion years if they don’t take the deal.

We like to see them doing something, but we lack the attention span to look at what that something is.
Teens sexting – SEX OFFENDER!!!!
Driving to fast/to slow/car to clean/car to dirty – DRUG DEALERS!!!! Take all the property.

We demanded laws to ‘fix’ the current panic of the moment & consider it fixed… until our kid is caught selling his buddy a joint & the state takes the whole house.

We refuse to pay public defenders for a decent defense & then we pretend we are shocked just shocked that so many cases end in plea deals that no sane person would have taken if not for knowing the system was rigged to screw them even more if they tried to fight with both hands tied behind their back.

Stop listening to the headlines about how many cases this tough prosecutor won & demand to know how they won. Are we going to pretend that someone accused of something who at best can expect 5 minutes with a public defender wouldn’t take a plea just to avoid the prosecutor piling more charges on for more time? Innocent people can & do confess to crimes they didn’t do, a system that claims to be fair and impartial is neither. We’ve failed to uphold the idea of Justice & we need to change it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

"Driving to fast/to slow/car to clean/car to dirty – DRUG DEALERS!!!! Take all the property."

The result of an intolerant society that likes to call themselves tolerant

First, they came for the nazis… ’cause nazis don’t tolerate anyone who doesn’t think like they do. We, are a tolerant society
Then it was a wild flower/weed…’cause we don’t want everyone to be like a lazy Mexican (Reefer Madness – American anti-weed propaganda film targeting…Mexicans I guess?)
Then it was, you guessed it from above sentence, the racists…

No telling who a tolerant society won’t tolerate next. I’m thinking it will be quite a while before they try alcohol again.

Round and round we go

Have a great day TAC!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Not even Bizzaro world would find that acceptable

‘We must protect the children… by slamming them with damning charges for taking pictures of themselves and/or receiving pictures of people their own age, undercutting the defense lawyers there to protect them from us, and then forcing them to take plea deals rather than deal with utterly insane charges we hit them with.’

Funny how often these ‘we must protect the children’ laws end up screwing over those same children. You’d almost think they’re nothing more than a cheap way to score dishonest PR and sleazy legal ‘wins’ at the cost of the children involved…

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