Commonwealth’s Attorneys—or C.A.’s, for short—are the local chief prosecutors elected to represent every county, city and town in Virginia. C.A.’s are the most powerful individuals in the criminal justice system, shaping justice policy, deciding who gets charged with a crime and which crimes to enforce, and even exerting a powerful influence in the legislature. Unfortunately, the vast majority of elected C.A.’s in Virginia remain moored to old attitudes, out of step with a modern, empathetic approach to criminal justice.
C.A. Difference is a campaign to raise public awareness of the critical and powerful role Virginia’s local elected prosecutors play in shaping Virginia’s justice system. It was created and is supported by Justice Forward Virginia, and was heavily inspired by D.A. Difference, a similar project started by the ACLU of Massachusetts. In at least six jurisdictions in 2019, Virginia voters have a chance to decide whether their local prosecutors fairly represent their beliefs and values. That’s why we started C.A. Difference—to bring the work of the most powerful actors in our justice system out of the dark, to help you use your voice and your vote to make our courts fairer for everyone, so that Virginia can “C.A.” Difference in its justice system.
Like criminal justice reform more generally, prosecutorial reform is truly a bipartisan movement—so it’s confusing that many claiming the mantle of “reformer” are describing themselves as “progressive prosecutors.” One need not be politically liberal to promote justice reform as a local elected prosecutor; in fact, some of the most regressive prosecutors in Virginia are Democrats. In addition, many who are calling themselves “progressive prosecutors” are not, in fact, committed to true prosecutorial reform. As used by true reformers, “progressive prosecutor” simply refers to “progress”—the notion that in order to fix our broken justice system, we must move away from the policies and practices that led us to our current predicament.
For that reason, it isn’t political parties or particular candidates that matter to us. What matters to us is fixing what’s broken—by reforming our criminal justice system. Whether that reform comes from an incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney who pledges to change their old way of doing business, or a challenger committed to doing what the incumbent won’t, all we desire is progress.
“We are not going to overcharge. We are not going to try to coerce defendants. We are going to proceed on charges that are supported by the facts in the case, period. The era of trying to get away with the highest charge regardless of the facts is over.”
— Larry Krasner, Philadelphia D.A.