Commonwealth’s Attorneys speak out on impact of Governor’s executive order

lawVirginia Commonwealth’s Attorneys on Friday criticized Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring the political rights, including the right to serve on a jury, of more than 206,000 convicted felons.  According to data from the McAuliffe administration, as many as 40,000 of the felons committed violent crimes. The prosecutors expressed concerned about a Dinwiddie County case in which a man accused of murdering a Virginia State Trooper is petitioning to see if felons were excluded from his jury pool in light of the Governor’s executive order.

“This case concerns every Commonwealth’s Attorney. The jury selection process is complicated enough. The Governor has added another layer of complexity, and unfortunately, it is not hard to imagine a scenario in which this directly impacts a case,” said Botetourt County Commonwealth’s Attorney Joel Branscom. “The beauty of the legislative process is that 140 legislators plus stakeholders from across the state get to offer input and identify problems before you enact a policy. When the Governor acts unilaterally, you don’t get that benefit; you get more questions than answers.”

“My fellow Commonwealth’s Attorneys and I take very seriously our obligation to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth, prosecute criminals and keep our communities safe.  Governor McAuliffe’s order makes my job harder, plain and simple, and this case proves that,” said Stafford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen. “Allowing violent felons to serve on juries is not only insulting to victims, but it creates serious legal complications. It adds additional burdens to jury selection and creates avenues to appeal that will cost the state time and money. I would not be surprised to see similar actions in jury trials across Virginia.”

“We have already reviewed the impact of the restoration order in Louisa and found that multiple sex offenders on the sex offender registry can now serve on a jury,” said Louisa County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rusty McGuire. “I cannot imagine any Virginianbelieves child sex offenders should sit on a jury where a child was raped, or a murderer should serve on a case where a trooper was killed.”
 
“I was troubled by the Governor’s decision to allow convicted felons, including violent criminals, to serve on juries.  The case in Dinwiddie County is exactly the kind of unintended consequence I feared,” said Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman. “The jury selection process is complex. Having to weed out convicted felons adds another layer to an already difficult process. Further, the Governor’s refusal to release the list of those impacted by his order makes it impossible for Commonwealth’s Attorneys to know if they are impaneling fair and impartial juries.”

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