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.