Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Justice is Measured By Doing Right By the Community

By Theo Stamos

A prosecutor is no ordinary lawyer. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson once said, a good prosecutor is one “who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.” It is with these qualities and virtues that I have sought to lead my office as your Commonwealth’s Attorney for the past seven years and I ask for your vote in the Democratic primary on June 11 for another term.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney is the prosecutor for all crimes charged in the courts of Arlington and the City of Falls Church, from traffic infractions to murder. My team of 17 lawyers handles hundreds of felonies and misdemeanors each year. Ensuring public safety, protecting the rights of victims and working to get a just result in every case are our priorities.

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This is a serious job for a serious-minded person. Experience is the touchstone for leading this office. In 31 years as a prosecutor, I’ve had more than 100 jury trials and more than 1,000 bench trials. I have never had a conviction overturned on appeal and there has never been a wrongful conviction during my tenure as Commonwealth’s Attorney. I have tried every type of case that can come before our courts – murders, rapes, robberies, gang violence, crimes involving child victims, drunk driving, and domestic violence. I understand and respect what a Commonwealth’s Attorney has the power to do and I respect the limitations on this office set by our partners in the legislative and judicial branches.

It is because of my leadership that we are in the seventh year of a robust drug court that offers a meaningful alternative to incarceration. Our drug court enhances public safety by providing an integrated system of treatment and judicial supervision with a goal of reducing recidivism — and it’s working. This innovation, as well as our bond diversion, magistrate diversion and other initiatives, demonstrate my commitment to meaningful criminal justice reform.

The combined strategy of smart policing and smart prosecution has contributed to a consistent decline in crime rates since 2011. I am happy to report that at the start of 2019, the jail population in the Arlington County Detention Facility — which also serves the City — was the lowest it has been in more than five years. In the past two years, not one juvenile in Arlington or Falls Church has been tried as an adult and soon there will not be a single juvenile from our jurisdiction serving the equivalent of a penitentiary sentence in a state juvenile facility.

I support coordinated community responses across disciplines to best prevent crime and reduce recidivism. In addition to the two programs mentioned above, my office participates in training police officers from Arlington and other departments known as Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training. Officers learn how to deal with individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, enabling fraught and potentially dangerous situations to be diffused without incident or involvement in the criminal justice system.
Additionally, as chair of our community’s Sexual Assault Response Team, I led the creation of a state-of-the-art protocol for addressing sexual assault and intimate partner violence that serves as a model for the Commonwealth.

Statewide, I created our prosecutors’ association’s Justice and Professionalism committee where we work on adopting best practices for investigating officer-involved shootings, expanding criminal discovery avoiding wrongful convictions, and more. We take our responsibilities as prosecutors so seriously that, as co-chair of the committee, I invited the head of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project to meet with us to discuss how to collaborate with them should there ever be an instance when a Virginia prosecutor is alerted to a wrongful conviction. Convicting a person for a crime that he or she didn’t commit is one of the worst things that can befall a person in the criminal justice system. Every prosecutor I know works tirelessly to avoid such a miscarriage of justice. Our job is not about prosecuting crime, it is about the pursuit of justice.

With my race for re-election underway, we have already knocked on thousands of doors. I’ve been gratified with the response of so many voters in this community who appreciate the work of my office. I hope to continue to bring additional reforms to our processes and policies that reflect the values of this community and I’m proud of my record as a proven, principled, and progressive prosecutor.

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In keeping with Justice Jackson’s admonition, justice is not measured by the number of convictions. Justice is measured by doing right by the community. My office will continue to make use of alternative sentencing and diversion programs, but our core mission remains unchanged and that is the principled prosecution of criminal offenders and the vigorous protection of victims’ rights.


Theo Stamos is the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. She is running for reelection and is seeking the Democratic nomination in a primary this June.

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