Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys (VACA)
The Community's Role in the
Criminal Justice System
Victims’ Rights Laws
The rights of victims are set forth in the Virginia Constitution
“That in criminal prosecutions, the victim shall be accorded fairness, dignity and respect by the officers, employees and agents of the Commonwealth’s and its political subdivisions and officers of the courts and, as the General Assembly may define and provide by law, may be accorded rights to reasonable and appropriate notice, information, restitution, protection, and access to a meaningful role in the criminal justice process. These rights may include, but not be limited to, the following:
The right to protection from further harm or reprisal through the imposition of appropriate bail and conditions of release;
The right to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness at all stages of the criminal justice system;
The right to address the circuit court at the time sentence is imposed;
The right to receive timely notification of judicial proceedings;
The right to restitution;
The right to be advised of release from custody or escape of the offender, whether before or after disposition; and
The right to confer with the prosecution.”
VA. Const. art. I, Section 8-A
Virginia’s Commonwealth’s Attorneys work hard every day to give meaning to the Victims’ Rights provisions of the Virginia Constitution stated above. They provide victims with early notice of their rights, and with ongoing notice of all critical phases of the criminal case. Prosecutors strive to treat the victims of crime with the utmost dignity and respect and communicate regularly with them to give information and get input. Finally, and most importantly, Virginia’s Commonwealth’s Attorneys are committed to upholding every crime victim’s right to justice.
For more information about Virginia Crime Victims’ Rights, visit: https://www.dcjs.virginia.gov/sites/dcjs.virginia.gov/files/publications/victims/summary-virginias-crime-victim-witness-rights-act.pdf
How to Keep Your Community Safe
It’s a fact. All the police and prosecutors in the world can’t make a community safe if the citizens are not active partners with law enforcement. Individuals who choose to participate in keeping their communities safe and hold criminals accountable are the most powerful force in crime prevention and reduction.
Every community in Virginia has the potential to reduce crime, and the local criminal justice system should reflect each county’s shared value system.
A strong partnership among communities, police officers, prosecutors and judges is the best crime-fighting weapon available in Virginia. When all the parts of the criminal justice system and community work together to address problems and develop shared solutions, we can achieve long-term public safety.
Here are some examples of how you can contribute to a more safe and healthy community:
Participate in or form a local community/neighborhood crime watch groups
Serve on jury duty when called
Participate in your local police and/or prosecutor Citizens Academy
Contact your local Commonwealth’s Attorney to find out how to support the efforts of his/her office
Get to know your neighbors and local law enforcement members
Use your security system if you have one
Improve the lighting in and around your house. Make use of timers or motion sensors for your lights
Keep doors and windows locked
Consider installing security cameras
Keep your vacation dates off social media
Don’t let mail or newspapers accumulate
Report suspicious behavior around your neighborhood
Never leave valuables in plain sight in your car
Don’t keep garage door openers inside a parked car outside
Keep legal guns secured and out of the reach of children
Get involved in local organizations that support at-risk children
A View of the Criminal Justice System
The criminal code in the Commonwealth’s of Virginia is established by elected representatives of the people, such as members of the Virginia House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. Prosecutors do not create laws, and this includes any mandatory sentencing requirements. Prosecutors do work with lawmakers to advocate for laws that impact public safety and the rights of victims.
Law Enforcement –
Each city and county has local law enforcement agencies that are responsible for preventing crime, investigating alleged crimes and for apprehending offenders. They respond to citizen calls for assistance. They impartially investigate crimes, gather evidence, arrest and charge people, and work with prosecutors to hold offenders accountable.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney (Prosecutor)
“A prosecutor has the responsibility of as minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate.” Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct 3.8 comment 1.
As “ministers of justice,” Commonwealth’s Attorney’s role is to represent the Commonwealth in criminal matters to pursue justice, not simply convict. They are responsible for protecting the rights of both victims and the accused.
Criminal Defense Attorneys
Defense attorneys are advocates for the accused. They are solely charged with zealously representing their clients and protecting their client’s interests. They make sure all rights afforded to the accused are upheld.
The Courts and Judges
Judges interpret and uphold the rule of law, assess the evidence presented by prosecutors and defense attorneys, and control how hearings and trials advance in their courtrooms. Their job is to make sure that the rules of court are followed by all parties. Their role is to be impartial decision-makers in the pursuit of justice. In Virginia, magistrates, along with police, make charging decisions in the majority of cases. Judges rule on appropriate bail and other conditions of release, set dates for court hearings, and impose sentences of those convicted based upon the jury’s recommendation, the defendant’s criminal history, the prosecutor’s and defense attorney’s requests and Virginia law.
Probation and Parole
The Virginia Department of Corrections provides supervision for those individuals placed on probation by a judge. https://vadoc.virginia.gov/offender-resources/offenders-under-community-supervision/probation-parole/
While parole in Virginia was abolished in 1995, those convicted of crimes before that time, and those who have reached a certain age are eligible for parole. The Virginia Parole Board is responsible for conducting hearings regarding the potential release of those inmates under the Board's release authority. Prosecutors do not make decisions as to when people are paroled or how much time they actually serve based upon the sentence a judge imposes. Below is a link to the Virginia Parole Board for more information.
While sometimes the terms “jail” and “prison” are used interchangeably, they have different meanings. Jails are established and managed on a local level to provide housing for some defendants while their criminal case is pending. In most cases, a bond amount is set and if the defendant is able to post the bond, they will be released from jail until their trial. The more serious the crime involved, the higher the bond will be. Most minor cases do not have a bond setting.
Prisons are where individuals who are convicted of crimes go to serve their sentence. While prosecutors do not impose sentences, they do make a sentencing recommendation to the judge in each criminal case. Virginia’s prosecutors know that taking someone’s liberty away can have a profound impact on the offender, his or her family and the community. This is why we consider prison to be the very last resort in the array of sanctions for criminal behavior. In lower level cases, alternative sanctions such as drug treatment and supervised probation are explored first. It is only when an offender is violent, or repeatedly engages in criminal behavior that incarceration is considered as a sentencing option to recommend to the judge.
It is important to note that Virginia’s Commonwealth’s Attorneys do not oversee or manage any prisons the Commonwealth. That responsibility is given to the Virginia Department of Corrections.