Emails reportedly show some Virginia prosecutors inside the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney (OCA) are concerned that Fairfax County attorney’s policies hurt their ability to try child rape cases.
Attorneys working under Commonwealth’s Attorney for Fairfax County Steve Descano allegedly complained in several emails that his criminal justice reforms made it harder to prosecute child sex exploitation cases, 7News reported after reviewing the emails. Descano sent a memo in 2020 instructing prosecutors in his office to reduce felony charges to misdemeanors to escape mandatory minimum jail terms where possible.
In a Sept. 2021 email to Descano’s leadership team, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney supervising attorney allegedly denounced Descano’s policies claiming that “Public Defenders … are now emboldened” because of his reforms, the outlet reported.
“Since the new administration, the public defender’s behavior towards child victim sexual assault cases have gotten extremely worse. I raise these concerns because I do not want to lose any more prosecutors from our team,” Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney supervising attorney said in an email, 7News reported.
“PD [Public Defenders] have told us that in JDR [Juvenile and domestic relations] sex cases that they will not plead to anything besides misdemeanors due to our office policy,” the email allegedly stated. (RELATED: ‘Maniacal Focus On Equal Outcomes’: Gov. Glenn Youngkin Slams Liberal Educators For Withholding Merit Awards)
“There is a general feeling that the line prosecutors do not feel supported by leadership. We are constantly being second-guessed and not supported in or out of court. The lack of support makes it difficult for us to do our jobs and has created a very contentious work environment. The Public Defenders (PDs)/defense’s attorneys are now emboldened and will say and do whatever it takes to get their way,” the supervising attorney reportedly wrote.
New: @7NewsDC obtained jaw-dropping emails from Descano’s team who raised major concerns about how Descano’s policies are allegedly emboldening public defenders and defense attorneys and impacting the prosecution of child sex exploitation cases. https://t.co/TODdPEuEs7
— Nick Minock (@NickMinock) February 22, 2023
The 2021 emails claim after Descano’s policies went into effect, public defenders began threatening to file disclosures claiming prosecutorial misconduct, like withholding evidence from the defense that could exonerate the suspect if attorneys don’t offer acceptable plea deals, 7News reported.
“We are not being given the tools we need to adequately keep our victims and community safe. The public defenders are constantly using our policies to prevent us [from] prosecuting these violent, senseless acts,” the supervising attorney reportedly wrote.
“If we do not make an offer the public defender accept[s], they threaten Brady letters and/or bar complaints. This behavior has gotten unbearable since the new administration. PDs prevent us from appealing violent/sexual assault bond to the Court of Appeals due to the office policy, so they intentionally wait to file bond appeals with certain Circuit Court judges (‘judge shopping’),” the supervising attorney continued.
Another attorney also emailed to criticize Descano, saying they were “personally offended” that he “does not value protecting children who have been raped,” the outlet reported.
Descano defended himself, promising that his policies have never affected prosecutors’ ability to try sex cases and that his office does “value victims.”
“First of all, that policy of treating some things as misdemeanors, that does not and never has touched sex cases. We take those types of sex cases very seriously. It’s the reason why I created a special team that does nothing but child sexual assault cases,” he said.
“My guess would be that [the emails’ author] would be somebody who no longer works in this office, somebody, for whatever reason, was not a good fit for our culture here,” Descano told the outlet. He said it’s “absolutely not true” that attorneys in his office are handicapped by his policies and lack of support.
“If you want to talk about the tools, let’s talk about the tools. They claim they don’t have the tools. Our prosecutors don’t have the tools to do their job is completely ridiculous,” said Descano.