Attorney General Jason Miyares said this week that he will work with legislators to revive a bill that could allow his office to prosecute alleged sexual crimes against minors.
Under state law, most violent offenses aren’t the purview of the attorney general’s office and are handled by commonwealth attorneys – local prosecutors. It’s the role of the attorney general’s office to advise the state government as well as handle appeals and prosecutions of other criminal offenses.
The idea of the attorney general office stepping in was a talking point in Miyares’ campaign last fall.
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Local law enforcement would have to ask the attorney general's office to step in.
“The purpose of the bill was to provide victims with additional resources to ensure that victims of these crimes are able to get justice,” Miyares said of the bill.
The renewed call to action from Miyares comes amid a sexual assault case in Fairfax County. According to Fox 5, a local station serving the Washington DC area, a man named Ronnie Reel was granted a plea deal to a misdemeanor after confessing to sexually assaulting an 11-year-old. The child’s mother also claimed to have a recorded confession from Reel. According to the article, when the case went to trial this month, prosecution had missed the deadline to submit Reel’s confession as evidence.
Reel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of assault and battery.
“The Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney has routinely failed victims of violent crime and mishandled juvenile sexual assault cases, which is why I will work with the legislature to see this legislation reintroduced,” Miyares said.
Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano — along with Parissa Dehgehanti-Tafti of Arlington and Buta Biberaj of Loudoun — has been the subject of two recall attempts by conservative groups.
The Democratic prosecutors were elected in 2019 on a platform of criminal justice reform in line with changes the General Assembly made law when Democrats led both chambers - such as decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession and eliminating the death penalty.
Descano said in a statement: “There’s a reason Miyares’ wrong-headed proposal to take over the prosecution of local crimes failed so miserably in the General Assembly after being opposed by the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys and proponents of reform alike."
The Republican Party of Virginia issued a statement condemning “liberal commonwealth attorneys” and urged that they be voted out of office.
“The most recent story is simply the latest in a long line of horrifying and incompetent actions taken by Descano that are threatening the citizens of Fairfax County and out commonwealth,” the statement said.
But Descano notes how the past attempt to let Miyares’ office step into local prosecutions failed.
“Miyares is simply seeking to obstruct efforts to build a more effective, equitable, and just system and instead return to the failed ”tough-on-crime” approach that did little to improve community safety and fueled mass incarceration," Descano said. "Not in my community and not on my watch.”