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Race for Top Prosecutor Posts Heats Up in Northern Virginia with Legal Reform as Prime Agenda

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Northern Virginia is readying for a tough battle for the seat of top prosecutor. Arlington County, Fairfax County and Loudoun County have hopefuls, who are keen on bringing reform into the system, and end the punitive actions taken for minor offences.

Parisa Tafti who is running against Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, aims to change the American criminal justice system. Tafti is a defense lawyer, who works on wrongful convictions, and hopes to take over Stamos, who has been a prosecutor for the last three decades.

The race this year stands out in Northern Virginia, for the campaign is part of a national criminal justice reform movement that is likely to upend law and order in Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun. Liberal hopefuls in Northern Virginia are challenging prosecutors, claiming it is time to change their outdated and punitive laws. Stopping prosecution for simple marijuana possession, no cash bond for defendants awaiting trial, and minimizing death penalties rule the campaigns of the challengers.

“The American criminal justice system is now a mass incarceration machine set on auto-pilot,” Tafti said during her campaign. “As a public defender, I know all too well how this machine dismantles communities, destroys families, uses bad science, and wastes money.”

Tafti, who in the last 20 years, has worked to get innocent people out of jail by challenging wrongful convictions, said that Arlington’s population has less than 10 per cent Blacks, yet two-thirds of its jail inmates belong to that community.

Tafti’s rival Theo Stamos believes that cash bail is effective, for it ensures people showing up in court for serious cases. However, Stamos recently announced that she would no longer ask for cash bail for minor offences.

In Fairfax County, Steve Descano is challenging incumbent Raymond F Morrogh (D). In the past two polls, the top prosecutor was elected without any rival. Morrogh now faces Descano, an ex-federal prosecutor, who previously worked as an Army pilot. Descano calls his run a “values campaign”.

Tafti’s and Descano’s campaigns are alike in the sense that both the hopefuls want to bring about reform in prosecution for drug addicts, the mentally ill and teenaged accused.

Fairfax prosecutor Morrogh, on the other hand, said he was “progressive before progressive was cool”. He stated that it was under him that a veteran’s court, drug court and mental-health court were established in his county. He also talked about the program under his purview that places defendants in pretrial care instead of demanding a bond.

The race for the top prosecutor in Loudoun County will witness rivals Republican Jim Plowman and Democrat Buta Biberaj fighting it out. Biberaj, the Democratic hopeful, is a trial lawyer with 25 years of experience, and a former substitute judge. She is riding on the issue of bond reform and medical care for the druggies or mentally ill instead of jail term.

Northern Virginia will witness a major change in its legal system if the hopefuls manage to clinch the seats for top prosecutors.

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