Category Archives: Courts and law

Threat Assessment Done Right — Virginia Tech

by James C. Sherlock

Yesterday I harshly critiqued the structure, authorities and actions of the University of Virginia Threat Assessment Team.

Today, in stark contrast, I offer Virginia Tech. Tech has complied with state law by simply doing what the law requires, and done it thoughtfully.

As a result, Tech has established a far more professional approach and an unbroken case flow from threat assessment to intervention to sanctioning.

Which some commenters have insisted was impossible at Virginia.

Where three young men are dead. Continue reading

President Ryan’s Ship Has Hit the Shoals

by James C. Sherlock

This is the Nov 16, 4:35 p.m. update to my highly controversial article on the failures of the University of Virginia to act against the alleged killer of three students before the crime.

I was too gentle with the leadership of the University, my alma mater, in that article. I wrote that the University had taken grossly inadequate and counterintuitive actions ahead of the shootings.

I gave them too much credit.

They took no action at all. Only claimed they did under the heat of questions.

According to a report in The Washington Post on the evening of Nov. 15, the statement that the University put out earlier that the Threat Assessment Team (TAT) had “escalated the case (of the shooter Mr. Jones) for disciplinary action” was not true. It blamed the oversight on an “inadvertent mixup.”

Seems they had meant to refer the case to the student-run judiciary committee. Which is used to assigning sanctions like the writing of essays.

It is Dr. Ryan’s ship.

He failed in his duty to lead. The members of the TAT failed in their statutory duties assigned under Virginia law after the Virginia Tech massacre.

He set the tone, assigned a DEI member to the TAT to oversee their actions, and they followed his path.

And a disturbed young man was free to kill those three other young men and grievously wound two others. Who were on a University bus. Returning from a play.

Victims as much of the culture wars and profound incompetence in the University leadership as they were of the shooter. Continue reading

UVa Tragedy Reasonably Preventable? State Investigation Required

by James C. Sherlock

Updated Nov. 15, 2020 at 8:36 AM (see end of article)

UVa President Jim Ryan

We have two related pieces of information about the UVa tragedy that call into question the effectiveness of the University’s state-mandated threat-assessment process.

We have the statements of senior University officials.

And we have Code of Virginia § 23.1-805. Violence prevention committee; threat assessment team, which mandates:

Each public institution of higher education shall establish policies and procedures for the prevention of violence on campus, including assessment of and intervention with individuals whose behavior poses a threat to the safety of the campus community.

The statements call directly into question whether the University carried out its responsibilities under that law.

The information available suggests that the Attorney General, one of whose Deputy A.G.s is the University Counsel, will likely convene an investigation led by the State Police.

I offer some information to assist in that investigation. Continue reading

Fredericksburg is the Crime Capital of Virginia

Fredericksburg area crime rate map.

by James C. Sherlock

wrote Friday that Fredericksburg has a major crime problem.

After hours of plowing through state crime statistics for 2021, I can now declare Fredericksburg the crime capital of Virginia.

Public safety is the number one job of local government, followed by running its schools.

The statistics suggest the Fredericksburg law enforcement system — the courts, the Commonwealth’s Attorney and the police department — and the school system have failed.

Fredericksburg may wish to acknowledge that by doing something about it. I suggested reversion to town status. I don’t expect that to happen, at least anytime soon.

The Fredericksburg criminal justice system does not work.

  • I don’t have access to their court data, but the Commonwealth’s Attorney proudly does not want to lock criminals up. She call that type of prosecution “community facing.” I call it community defacing.
  • The state Office of Criminal Justice Services currently accredits 104 Virginia law enforcement agencies (LEAs) that meet commonly accepted professional standards for efficient and effective agency operation established by the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission (VLESPSC). But not the Fredericksburg police.
  • Yet Fredericksburg has the largest drug crime problem per capita of any medium or large jurisdiction in the state.

Something needs to wake them up. Continue reading

Virginia Needs to Adopt the Uniform Act on Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking

by James C. Sherlock

Seldom can we mitigate bad problems with solutions that work and are handed us on a platter. But we can do that in Virginia in the case of human trafficking.

The Department of Justice defines human trafficking as follows:

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological. Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used.

The last time we had good numbers on arrests only, there were 5,000 arrests related to suspected trafficking in Virginia between 2012 and 2019.  Yet even now, the Commonwealth’s Trafficking Coordinator wrote at the end of last year that nearly all of the charges have been brought against buyers and sellers of prostitution, not traffickers.

The Uniform Law Commission (ULC), established in 1892, provides states with non-partisan legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.

It has since 2013 offered the Uniform Act on the Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking (Uniform Act). This act has been adopted by at least nine states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While Governor Youngkin signed a spate of new laws in June of this year, a big improvement, Virginia laws on human trafficking remain scattered all over the Code of Virginia.  The only Virginia law against it is § 18.2-355. The laws remain woefully inadequate.

The Uniform Act is ready to submit. Both parties in the General Assembly should sponsor it and adopt it unanimously in the upcoming session. Continue reading

Norfolk Man Accused of Triple Murder About To Be Freed

by Kerry Dougherty

Good news for the soft-on-crime crowd: a suspected triple murderer is being freed in Norfolk because two witnesses didn’t show up for yesterday’s preliminary hearing.

And because it appears that prosecutors aren’t exactly breaking a sweat trying to get this case moving.

Antoine M. Legrande Jr.’s hearing was originally scheduled for September 6th – four months after he was arrested and charged with killing Virginian-Pilot reporter Sierra Jenkins as well as Marquel Andrews and Devon Harris. Two others were shot and injured. The victims were leaving Chicho’s Backstage on Granby Street in Norfolk on March 19th when they were gunned down outside.

Legrande was charged with three counts of second-degree murder, five counts of use of a firearm and two counts of malicious wounding.

Legrande’s September preliminary hearing was postponed after prosecutors whined that they needed more time to subpoena a witness and to review evidence including cell phone records, shell casings and bullets retrieved from the victims. Continue reading

Ah, Those Woke Prosecutors!

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is a quiz. Below is the description of a crime that was released by the public information office of a Virginia locality. The killer pled guilty to charges of first-degree murder, attempted robbery (2 counts) and use of a firearm (3 counts). The judge sentenced him to 63 years in prison with 33 years suspended, leaving 30 years to serve. As the news release noted, “This was the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement.” See if you can guess the jurisdiction and Commonwealth’s attorney that accepted such a plea agreement for a murderer, rather than go to trial.

On the morning of November 29, 2018, the victim, Devin Bell, was alone in his home. Bobby Cason, who was unknown to Bell, knocked on his door. Bell did not open the door but had a strange conversation with Cason, and then noticed that Cason continued to hang around the condominium complex. Bell contacted some friends to come to help him check out the situation.

After Bell’s friends arrived at the complex, Cason ran up to one of them, armed with a handgun with an extended magazine, and demanded the man’s property. The man had nothing but a cup of coffee, so Cason turned toward Bell and said he “needed something.” Bell pulled out his cell phone and told Cason to take it. Cason then pulled a second handgun from his pocket and demanded that Bell take him inside his house. A struggle ensued during which Cason shot Bell. Bell collapsed a short distance away, where he died. Cason fled the scene with both guns. The medical examiner determined that the muzzle of the gun was pressed against Bell’s neck when he was shot.

Cason was linked to the crime through Ring doorbell footage. He was wearing latex gloves at the time. Police found a latex glove near Bell’s body, which was later analyzed by the Department of Forensic Science. Cason’s DNA was found on the glove.

Although no handguns were recovered, police found at Cason’s grandparents’ house a magazine containing bullets of the same type as the shell casing found near Bell’s body. At his grandparents’ and parents’ houses, police also recovered shoes and a latex glove matching Cason’s attire in the Ring doorbell footage. Continue reading

Progressive Initiatives in Virginia to be Blocked by Environmental Laws?

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes we are too clever for our own good.

American environmentalists have been hugely successful and have done a great deal of good. We have them to thank for cleaner water and air.

But traditional environmentalists, supported by legal interests, incorporated two features in America’s environmental laws that may prove as fatal to progressive goals going forward as they were to major polluters in the past:

  1. They required environmental reviews by regulators; and
  2. They allowed (encouraged, actually) citizen lawsuits to challenge in federal court the findings of regulators they thought they could not always trust to shut down “bad” projects. Laws permitting citizen lawsuits include, among others, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Traditional environmentalists — those who sought clean water and air and protection for endangered species — did not foresee the trouble that would come from both government bureaucracies and the courts to threaten modern-day progressive climate-change projects.

The legal interests foresaw spectacular profits in the lawsuits, regardless of outcomes. These were civil cases, in which attorneys billed not-for-profit plaintiffs by the hour regardless of outcome, because there are no civil damages available. But, unsurprisingly, attorneys fees are recoverable.

Now Virginia is ground zero as those features for traditional environmentalists have turned into bugs for progressives. Continue reading

Virginia Model Policies on Protecting Students Show Differences in Constitutional Focus and Interpretation

by James C. Sherlock

There is lots of interest, and not a little headline hyperbole, concerning the change in Virginia’s model policies designed to assure all children appropriate treatment at school.

Two different world views are apparent in the titles:

  • the Northam administration’s Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools (Northam Model Policies) and
  • the Youngkin Administration’s Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools (Youngkin Model Policies).

Both attorneys and general audiences will find interesting the way the authors of each document interpreted the United States Constitution.

Each referred to the first and 14th amendments. And Virginia laws. The differences in emphasis and interpretation were chosen to support their cases.

That is not surprising, but I think those differences make or break the case for the two policies.

I will let readers decide. Continue reading

Who’s “Legislating from the Bench” Now?

by Jim McCarthy

“It’s not the court’s place to legislate,” the judge stated in local media after dismissing a case seeking to have two books declared obscene upon her ruling that such ban violated Virginia and federal law.

“Look, the General Assembly is a citizen legislature. We’re not lawmakers. Things like this happen and a law got written in a confusing way,” noted the plaintiff’s lawyer, who is an elected delegate.

The two statements reflect a continuing point of conflict and criticism of court decisions deemed to be legislating from the bench. The “we’re not lawmakers” and “citizen legislature” comments ignore the fact that members of the General Assembly are served by a Division of Legislative Services staffed by more than fifty professionals to assist in drafting legislation. The term legislating from the bench tends to be employed by critics of judicial decisions, too often with little substantive explanation. Sometimes, the phrase “judicial activism” is used as shorthand. Generally, it is fair to say that the critique relates to the results of adjudication that either invalidate or modify legislation or appear to imbue legislation with meaning beyond the terms of the statute. Continue reading

U.K. Suit Demonstrates Legal Jeopardy for Virginia Child Transgender Clinics

by James C. Sherlock

You knew it was coming.

The Times of London has reported the inevitable lawsuit.

Tavistock gender clinic ‘to be sued by 1,000 families’

The Tavistock gender clinic (now closed) is facing mass legal action from youngsters who claim they were rushed into taking life-altering puberty blockers.

I have no idea if the firm that plans the suit will get 1,000 families to join the class. Neither do they.

But everyone knew the suit itself was coming. The defense against this suit, if it ever reaches court, will be severely challenged.

Unless the tort bar retires en masse, such suits are coming to Virginia. Continue reading

Progressives in Virginia In Position to Overrule Parental Objections to Invasive Child Gender Dysphoria Treatment

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginian-Pilot, in an editorial, bemoaned Governor Youngkin’s endorsement of a policy that would require schools to tell parents about their kids’ transexual identity expressions at school.

It’s as though the potential consequences of such a policy have never crossed his mind.

The sure consequences of opposing that policy were not discussed.

The Pilot brain trust did not address, and perhaps did not care, that a child in Virginia must have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria as a predicate for mental health treatment. And, of course, for physically invasive treatments.

Most Virginians think parental/guardian consent is required for all of that. It certainly should be. But it won’t be if progressives find the right judge.

Medical ethics should help protect kids, but will not. Progressive medical providers think themselves to be doing the best thing for the child, even with the dangerous, irreversible and ghastly treatments to which some providers subject children diagnosed as gender dysphoric.

Neither will judicial ethics. Read the papers every day for things that progressives think best for all of us. Progressive judges will think themselves to be doing the right thing as well.

Virginia is thick with progressive doctors and judges. It is thicker with parents.

The progressives need to be stopped by changes in Virginia law. This is a very complicated subject.  So the background discussion will be extensive.

Continue reading

Pretrial Services Agencies: A Rejoinder

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

My colleague, James Sherlock, recently posted an article in which he concluded that the Commonwealth’s pretrial agency program is a failure. I took issue with his basic conclusions, but did not have enough details handy to make my case. I now have more information.

His conclusion was based on data shown in a report put out by the Virginia State Crime Commission in its study of the state’s pretrial program. A table summarizing the data showed that, in localities served by a pretrial services agency (PSA), 14.5% of the suspects released while awaiting trial failed to appear for their court date. Furthermore, 24% were arrested for a new crime. Because the data did not include all the new crimes that may have been committed, he extrapolated the data and proposed that 45% of the offenders released were pre-trial recidivists or failures to appear (FTA). (One error was his failure to account for some double-counting. Some of those 24% who were arrested for a new crime may also have been in the FTA pool. But that is not important for this discussion.) Based on this conclusion, he went on to declare that the risk assessment tool used by pretrial services officers to make their recommendations is a failure. Continue reading

Lee, Jackson, the Right of Rebellion, and Hanging Cromwell’s Corpse

The thirst for vengeance has no expiration date: hanging Oliver Cromwell’s corpse.

by Jock Yellott

As an August vacation from current events, let’s explore Virginia’s Right of Rebellion — and the question of Confederate treason.

It’s in our state constitution Bill of Rights: “Whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to [the benefit, protection, and security of the people] a majority of the community hath an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal. Virginia Constitution Art. I §3 (June 12, 1776).

Virginia’s Constitution was no anomaly.

When the American colonies seceded from England in 1776, and afterwards for the next three quarters of a century until 1860, most state constitutions in their Bill of Rights or Preamble reserved to the citizens the right to abolish their own governments. A representative sample: the original colonies Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Georgia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and later (when added to the union) the states of Texas and Maine. Continue reading

Zombie Legislation

by Jim McCarthy

Zombies, having become popular in filmdom and TV, are finding resonance in the nation’s legislative sausage making. Generally, the term zombie legislation applies to statutes negated or consigned to death, often by federal or state court decisions, that remain on the books due to legislative lethargy. Currently, the phenomenon has become more apparent and pertinent following the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision in Dobbs v Jackson, reviving concern about related privacy precedents.

As a matter of fact, however, zombie statutes have an even older presence than 2022.

The post-Civil War amendments intended to emancipate slaves and affirm the principle that all are created equal. The Thirteenth (in precatory language) declared that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States,” and the Fifteenth guaranteed that the right to vote shall not be denied. Declaring slavery shall not exist as a precatory statement is not the equivalent of outlawing the practice. Just over three decades later, at the opening of the 1900s, Virginia convened a constitutional convention. One of its prominent leaders, Carter Glass (later U.S. Senator), in responding to questions about some provisions in the document as discriminatory, proclaimed:

Discrimination! What that is exactly what we propose. To remove every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.

Continue reading