CA Report Card: Arlington/Falls Church

CA Report Card: Arlington/Falls Church

Read Arlington’s full CA Report Card here…

Although Arlington County and the City of Falls Church like to boast of their progressive values, those values aren’t always evident in the local criminal justice system. To the contrary, advocates of justice reform consider certain institutions within the Arlington justice system to be among the most regressive in Virginia. This includes the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

As the “centerpiece of [the] criminal justice system,” there was once broad consensus that the system only achieved “fair and just results… when trials occur[ed] in meaningful numbers.” Trials no longer occur in meaningful numbers, largely because of the “trial penalty”: the power of prosecutors to make losing a trial such a frightening proposition that any reasonable person would accept a plea bargain. How is Arlington doing in this regard?

  • Felony trials in Arlington have all but vanished: since 2014, 97.5% of felony convictions in Arlington have resulted from guilty pleas, surpassing even the federal system (97%). By comparison, roughly 91% of felony convictions in the City of Alexandria and 93% in Fairfax County and Loudoun County result from guilty pleas.

  • Arlington turns out felony convictions at two to three times the rate of its neighbors, despite having the least crime.

Arlington also struggles with racial disparities in its criminal justice system. Although only 9% of Arlington residents are black, black people represent almost 50% of those charged with driving on a suspended license in Arlington, and almost 60% of those charged with marijuana possession.

And Arlington seeks the death penalty whenever it can—since 2012, the Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney has indicted capital murder in every case where the defendant was eligible for the death penalty.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has recently styled herself a “progressive prosecutor” and a “reformer.” Whatever her aspiration, the data tell a different story, suggesting an outmoded, “tough on crime” approach, with substantial changes required to bring Arlington’s prosecutorial practices into the 21st century.

To read the entire CA Report Card for Arlington and Falls Church, click here…