FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Virginia’s new Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares said he is reorganizing the AG's office. Miyares already fired 30 attorneys including lawyers who worked on civil rights, human trafficking and election issues.
Now, he wants to give people a Plan B when it comes to prosecutors he describes as "too liberal."
Miyares is working on Republican legislation to allow police and sheriff's departments to bypass their local prosecutor's office and look to the attorney general to handle the case instead.
Fairfax County Police Department
Innocence Project, a criminal justice reform non-profit organization
Victoria LaCivita, director of communication for Attorney General Jason Miyares
Steve Descano, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney
What they're saying
Miyares has called out Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano, saying, "he's not doing his job."
Descano disputes the new attorney general's authority to even implement such a shakeup.
“It is an unprecedented attempt at a power grab," Descano said. “What he's really trying to do is undermine the will of the people. I won my election to bring these reforms to Fairfax County."
"The attorney general has no authority to go through with the plan that he wants to implement,” Descano said. “As a matter of fact, that's why he is trying to get the law changed."
WUSA9 contacted the attorney general's office. His spokesperson, Victoria LaCivita, sent us this statement:
"The Attorney General wants to work with law enforcement officers and Commonwealth Attorneys to ensure that Virginians have a backup plan and no victim's voice is silenced. The legislation would give the Attorney General concurrent jurisdiction, which he already has in a number of other areas of the law, such as child pornography."
Here's what AG Miyares said about the issue and Descano on Nov. 4: “When prosecutors are making plea deals in a rape case over the objections of the family, I have a serious problem with that."
Miyares was referencing a 2019 case involving a 53-year-old man who admitted to repeatedly raping a young relative. Descano cut a plea deal that landed the man 17 years behind bars, even though the maximum charge called for life in prison. The victim's family is now fighting the plea deal.
“What we're able to do is get a guaranteed outcome that keeps our community safe. I think people like the attorney general, Jason Miyares, who knows better or should know better, really play on the fact that people don't understand our criminal justice system to try to scare them for his own personal political gains,” Descano said.
According to the Innocence Project, 97% of criminal trials nationwide end in plea deals. Descano said their plea deals result in sentences that are longer than 75% of all cases in the Commonwealth.
Still, AG Miyares argues leniency leads to higher crime. According to Fairfax County Police data, homicides have followed national trends and climbed in 2021 (15 homicides in 2020, 21 homicides in 2021). But crimes such as robberies and assaults were down 9.6% last year.
The legislation appears to face an uphill battle in the Senate, but the AG's spokesperson said they are "working with both chambers of the General Assembly regarding our entire legislative package.”