Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Deghani-Tafti is in an unusual battle for a prosecutor — she’s fighting for a lower penalty to be imposed on a defendant alleged to have been transporting 50 pounds of marijuana at the Reagan National Airport. According to reporting by the Washington Post, Judge Daniel Fiore II refused to accept a plea deal arranged by Deghani-Tafti, a move that also forced Fiore to recuse himself from further involvement in the case. Now, Deghani-Tafti is arguing to have the original deal applied — one that would give the defendant probation with a possibility of having his felony charges dismissed, according to the Washington Post.
“Parisa will not prosecute simple possession of marijuana and support decriminalization and legalization, with appropriate government regulation,” Deghani-Tafti’s 2019 campaign website states.
Deghani-Tafti has clashed with other judges for her controversial stance on enforcement of marijuana laws, leading to a case before the Virginia Supreme Court, according to the Washington Post. She claims that judicial resistance to her policies is “judicial activism.” Deghani-Tafti’s approach is part of a broader trend of progressive prosecutors declaring that they will not enforce specific laws.
Heritage Legal Fellow and former prosecutor Zack Smith told The Virginia Star that the whole thing is an example of what happens when prosecutors decide not to prosecute broad swaths of law.
“It highlights the breakdown in the system that happens when a lot of these rogue prosecutors take it upon themselves to implement their own vision of what laws should and should not be enforced and really usurp the role of the state legislature in doing that,” Smith said.
He noted that normally, a prosecutors’ job is to push for the strongest case they can make, and the public defender’s job is to push for the best outcome for their clients. Smith said it is not surprising or bad that public defenders would accept lenient arrangements. Smith also said that traditionally prosecutors, not judges, are responsible for determining on a case-by-case basis what cases to prosecute.
Broadly speaking, Smith said, “The judges instincts are certainly correct when they’re confronted with what these rogue prosecutors are doing that this is something inappropriate. It’s something that traditionally has not been done by their office, and so they’re inclined to push back.”
He added, “But I think that when that happens, you also run into a new set of problems, with judges potentially taking on a role that their branch of government is not designed to take on.”
Democratic politicians in Virginia are pushing for new laws legalizing marijuana. Smith didn’t weigh in on the pros and cons of marijuana legalization, but he said that it’s not up to prosecutors to choose to ignore current law. He said that if Virginians think marijuana should be legal, the law should be changed.
Smith said, “It’s really a troubling trend. Whenever you see these prosecutors refusing to enforce the laws, it creates a lot of chaos, it makes our communities less safe, it harms victims in their communities, and it really does create a lot of problems in our system of criminal justice.”
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