Democrats for Crime Witnesses and Victims

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

For those readers of this blog who contend that Democrats and “progressive” prosecutors are fixated on not prosecuting violent criminals and ignoring the needs of witnesses and victims, I have some good news for you.

Witness Protection

Since 1994 Virginia has had a statute authorizing the Virginia State Police to establish a witness protection program. However, because it has never been specifically funded, it has been seldom, if ever, used. (Never mind that the Department of State Police had GF balances at the end of FY 2022 of $32 million and $10 million in FY 2021.)

In March 2021, Steve Descano, the Commonwealth’s attorney for Fairfax County and Ramin Fatehi, then the deputy Commonwealth’s attorney for Norfolk, published an op-ed in The Virginian-Pilot calling on the General Assembly to fully fund the Witness Protection Program. They pointed out the problems that police and prosecutors have in getting witnesses to come forward due to their being threatened or otherwise intimidated. “Witness protection programs — which provide for the security or relocation of witnesses away from those who might wish them harm — are among the most effective means of counteracting witness intimidation,” they contended.

Governor Northam did not include funding for a witness protection program in his introduced 2022-2024 budget bill. Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) submitted a budget amendment in the 2022 Session for $5 million each year of the biennium to fund the program; however, funding was not included in the final budget bill.

In the fall of 2022, Governor Youngkin announced his Bold Blue Line initiative. One component of the umbrella program was a pledge to “work with the General Assembly to fund a Victim/Witness Assistance Program to help police and prosecutors put violent criminals behind bars.” His introduced budget amendments included $30 million for Bold Blue Line, but the explanation for the amendment dealt with recruitment of law enforcement officers.

Again, Del. Scott submitted his budget amendment to provide the State Police $5 million for the witness protection program. The final budget bill, adopted last month, included $1 million for the program. Instead of being administered by the State Police, the funding is to be provided by the Department of Criminal Justice Services as grants to local governments, prosecutors, and law enforcement tosupport witnesses and their families who may be in danger because of their cooperation with the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes.”

Steve Descano and Ramin Fatehi, now the Commonwealth’s attorney for Norfolk had an op-ed in The Virginian-Pilot praising the legislature for finally funding the program. Scott acknowledged the support from Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares and Virginia Beach Republican Del. Barry Knight in getting bipartisan support for the proposal this year.

 Victim Support

In the last two sessions, Democrats also offered budget proposals to increase the amount of assistance available to victims of crime.

In his proposed 2022-2024 budget bill, Governor Northam included almost $700,000 over the biennium to increase staff support for the program providing services for victims of human trafficking. In the General Assembly, Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach) and Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) introduced budget amendments in their respective houses to provide $10 million to create the Virginia Mass Violence Care Fund, which would provide services to victims of mass violence. That proposal did not make it into the final bill. More fortunate was a bipartisan effort by Del. A.C. Cordoza (R-Hampton) and Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax) to add $400,000 to support the Virginia Victim Assistance Network.

In the 2023 Session, Gov. Youngkin submitted an amendment for the same $10 million for the Virginia Mass Violence Care Fund requested by Democrats the year before, but it met the same fate. Del. Angelia Williams Graves (D-Norfolk) offered a budget amendment for $800,000 each year to support victims of violence-related trauma. That proposal also did not make it into the final budget bill. However, the budget conferees did include the $1.2 million amendment submitted by Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) to offset the decline in federal funding for victim-witness programs.

In summary, Democrats in the General Assembly have recently been in the forefront providing support to crime witnesses and victims notwithstanding what seems to be the perception of some commenters on this blog.