On March 18, the Richmond Times Dispatch held a public Square forum to
address the high number of convicted felons in the commonwealth.
At this seminar, Richmond's top prosecutor Mike Herring voiced frustration
with the current legal system. He indicated frustration by state law making
minor theft and small drug possessions punishable with felony convictions.
Herring has given frontline prosecutors discretion to reduce certain felony
charges. As a result, of those charged with ridiculous felony offenses
must often hope that their attorney can convince a prosecutor to impose
a "legal fiction." A good prosecutor has a moral compass that
allows him to determine whether or not specific decisions are really being
made in the interests of public safety.
Some jurisdictions remain unwilling to address the lunacy of Virginia felony
laws. Virginia has the fourth highest percentages of citizens that are
convicted felons. This is in contrast to the state ranking 34th in crime
rate. Clearly the state's penchant for permanently labeling citizens
as felons is disproportionate with the state's mandate to protect
its law abiding citizens.
Felons suffer a wide range of penalties. An American Bar Association study
identified more than 38,000 punitive provisions that apply to people convicted
of crimes. Felons lose rights associated with everything from voting,
public housing benefits, to occupational licenses. More than two-thirds
of the states allow hiring and professional-licensing decisions to be
made on the basis of mere felony arrests. A 2010 study by the Center for
Economic Policy and research concluded that the US employment economy
loses $57-65 billion dollars a year in the form of lost output of goods
and services from people that are denied opportunities due to their criminal history.
Generally, Virginia felony convictions cannot be erased or expunged. Some
Virginia jurisdictions are gradually learning that intelligent prosecution
does not mean heartless prosecution. Smart voters are becoming aware that
being "tough on crime" is not incompatible with compassion and
common sense. Good criminal defense attorney's make every effort to
not allow their clients to be permanently branded with the life-long shackle
of a felony conviction.