While individual Commonwealth’s Attorneys have wide discretion in their own cities and counties, true reform often must come from changes to Virginia laws.
Ramin has lobbied the Virginia General Assembly on behalf of the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, other Commonwealth’s Attorneys, and Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice. As Commonwealth’s Attorney, he will continue to advocate in Richmond for these legislative priorities and all priorities that will benefit the citizens of Norfolk:
The possession and responsible use of marijuana is legal in large parts of the United States and all over the world. Virginia has decriminalized marijuana possession, but marijuana possession remains illegal here. It is time for Virginia to end marijuana prohibition.
Cash bail criminalizes poverty by requiring persons accused of crimes—and presumed to be innocent—to pay to get out of jail. California, New Jersey, and Washington D.C., among others have abolished this outdated practice in favor of pretrial supervision. We should do the same.
The death penalty is arbitrary, unfair, disproportionately inflicted on African Americans, expensive, and, above all, morally wrong. We must cease using the power of the state to kill our fellow human beings.
Mandatory minimum penalties tie the hands of prosecutors and judges and prevent individuals from being treated as individuals.
All people convicted of even minor traffic offenses in Virginia are required to pay court fees that are essentially non-waivable, even if they are indigent. This is flatly unfair, criminalized poverty, and speeds the cycle of poverty.
In Virginia, the illegal possession of a minor amount of a Schedule I or II drug—even a single Percocet pill—is a felony that strips a person of the right to vote, to serve on a jury, and to otherwise be a full citizen of Virginia. Reclassification of this crime as a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to twelve months in jail is more than sufficient to deter the underlying conduct without depriving people of their rights as citizens.
The public visibility of a person’s criminal record should depend on the seriousness of their crime, consistent with public safety.
At present, only incarcerated persons over the age of 60 or persons convicted of crimes prior to 1995 are eligible for parole. It is time for the Department of Corrections to assess each of its inmates, with certain exceptions, for release on a showing that they have truly reformed and are ready to reenter the community.
The Virginia Witness Protection Program was created in 1994. It has never been funded. This is a travesty. If we expect crime victims and witnesses to come forward and help convict dangerous people, we must offer them the protection they deserve.
The job of the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney is among the most difficult of all the 120 Commonwealth’s Attorneys in Virginia. Norfolk is Virginia’s third-largest city and eighth-largest locality, and the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is nearly unique in the Commonwealth in serving both a large locality and a locality with a relatively high rate of violent crime, the legacy of residential, economic, and educational segregation and the resulting concentration of poverty.
Norfolk is one of the largest and busiest offices in the Commonwealth, with over 40 lawyers and about 50 paralegals, victim-witness advocates, and secretaries, all of whom work with a Norfolk Police Department of close to 700 sworn officers.
Ramin’s experience right here in Norfolk—as a supervisory prosecutor, trial lawyer, strategic thinker, and state legislative advocate—mean that Ramin is ready to run the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office on the day he is sworn in. Ramin’s track record proves that he will protect Norfolk’s citizens while ensuring that the system is fair for all.
Ramin is proud to serve in the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office alongside over 90 dedicated public servants. Norfolk has much to be proud of, but no office is perfect, and Ramin will set these office priorities as Commonwealth’s Attorney:
Rather than have prosecutors handle one kind of case, often for years at a time, Ramin would arrange the office into three General Practice Teams, preferably divided by geography to mirror the three Precincts of the Norfolk Police Department.
Norfolk currently assigns prosecutors to prosecute a single kind of case, often for years at a time. This system causes prosecutors to burn out and prevents prosecutors from seeing the bigger picture of the activity driving crime in Norfolk. Just as community policing allows officers to build partnerships with the residents of individual neighborhoods, community prosecution allows prosecutors to be responsive to the needs of the communities they serve rather than reacting to crimes outside of their context. See here for an excellent overview of how community prosecution works.
Every Norfolk civic league will have a designated prosecutor who will serve as a point of contact to address concerns regarding crime and prosecution within that neighborhood. Citizens will be able to voice their concerns with a member of the Office whom they will know by name.
When prosecutors know their neighborhoods, prosecutors will be able to serve their neighborhoods more effectively, identifying trends in behavior and addressing them early in the process.
A connection to neighborhoods rather than classes of crimes will offer prosecutors more intellectual engagement, will fight burnout and vicarious trauma, and will ensure better victim service and better overall outcomes for Norfolk. Ramin is committed to making sure that every person in the Office, whether lawyers or staff members, feels like a valued member of a team and knows that everyone is working toward a common goal: justice and safety for all.
The justice system is the primary method of ensuring public safety, but other programs can complement its efforts. Ramin will pursue data-driven, tested alternatives such as violence interrupters, where community leaders diffuse tensions that otherwise lead to retaliatory violence, and restorative-justice programs, where defendants and victims, subject to strict controls and with consent of everyone involved, meet to try to heal the harm that criminal behavior inflicts.
Norfolk’s current system of reviewing police shootings and police misconduct takes too long, leaving both officers and the community without prompt answers to whether a shooting is legally justified and necessary or whether an officer’s actions constitute misconduct or even criminal behavior. Ramin will give the community prompt answers to their questions on these vital cases.
Prosecutors will undergo continuing training in implicit bias, systemic racism, the history of mass incarceration, and the root causes of crime so that they can, to the extent possible, ensure that they prosecute cases on their merits rather than for impermissible reasons.
Every good prosecutor’s nightmare is sending an innocent person to prison, but the reality is that the American criminal justice system has suffered a plague of wrongful convictions, whether due to police or prosecutorial misconduct, junk science, witness misidentification, perjury, or simple mistake. Ramin will not tolerate innocent people in prison. Ramin will establish an independent Conviction Integrity Unit in the Office, staffed by independent lawyers answerable directly to him, to investigate any Norfolk conviction, no matter how old, to determine whether the conviction or sentence was properly obtained.
The top priority of any prosecutor is to minimize violence. The community trust that will come from Community Prosecution and a continued commitment to criminal justice reform will allow the office to focus additional resources on the prosecution of violent crimes against and the firearms-possession and firearms-use crimes that drive violent crimes. Prosecuting violent crime requires the trust of the community. Criminal justice reform builds that trust by reducing the effects of overpolicing and freeing up resources to redirect to violent crime. If the community trusts the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to protect them, the community will help in the investigation and prosecution of violent crime.
The Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office can be proud of many of its initiatives, and Ramin will continue to support them as Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Norfolk has long been a leader in alternatives to incarceration, having been either the first or one of the first localities in Virginia to found a Drug Court for those suffering from substance-use disorders, Mental Health Court for those suffering from mental illness, and Reentry Court for citizens returning to society. Norfolk is also among the first to implement a Veterans Track in our alternative dockets to offer a helping hand to defendants whose PTSD and other service-related traumas have led them to be criminally charged. Ramin will continue Norfolk’s pioneering support for these important programs.
The Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the YWCA, the Norfolk Police Department, and the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office, has opened the first Family Justice Center in Virginia, a landmark achievement in victim-centered services. The Family Justice Center allows victims of domestic and sexual violence to receive services, undergo treatment, and, if they wish, to pursue charges at a single location, helping to address their trauma and to begin the process of healing and closure.
Norfolk has been a leader in providing services for victims and witnesses of crimes, with over a dozen victim-witness advocates on staff. Under Ramin’s leadership, that staff will continue to serve Norfolk’s crime victims with compassion and understanding.
Norfolk has emphasized a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and respect for all people. Ramin will continue to recruit and retain minority prosecutors and staff. Ramin is committed to ensuring that the faces in the office reflect the faces of the people of Norfolk and will continue to make the Office a welcome place for people of all racial backgrounds, for immigrants, for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and for people from all walks of life.