Don’t Fault the Albemarle Police Department in the Mark Weiner Prosecution
After struggling to quell the most recent round of criticism concerning the handling of the Mark Weiner prosecution, Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney Lunsford has decided to fault the Albemarle Police Department for shortcomings in this case.
When asked in a July 22, 2015 profile whether there is "anything you wish you had done differently" in the Weiner prosecution, Lunsford faulted the Albemarle Police Department for a "lack of information coming into [the Commonwealth Attorney's] office." She added that she had "talked to the chief [Col. Sellers] to let him know I wanted to change that so we have a better flow of information . . . to try to find a way that this doesn’t happen again."
According to Lunsford, law enforcement's failure to disclose Chelsea Steiniger's alleged participation in a February 2015 drug transaction represented a "Brady violation" that made joining the defense motion to vacate Weiner's 2012 conviction "easy." Curiously, in the same interview Lunsford claimed that her decision to join the motion to vacate Weiner's conviction "had nothing to do with the victim, it had nothing to do with Mr. Weiner, it had nothing to do with politics. It was what was [sic] the right thing to do." [i]
In Brady v. Maryland, the United States Supreme Court held that “the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused . . . violates due process where the evidence is material to either guilt or to punishment." After objecting to the admission of cell phone information and law enforcement testimony favorable to Weiner during his trial, Lunsford now blames Albemarle law enforcement for not immediately disclosing information she recently deemed irrelevant concerning alleged misconduct occurring two and half years after Mr. Weiner's conviction.
As Charlottesville resident and Slate.com reporter Dahlia Lithwick recently reported, in a story that continues to generate national headlines, nothing in Ms. Lunsford's statement "explains why the prosecutor’s office deemed a subsequent drug charge to be more disqualifying than contemporaneous phone records, impeachment testimony, expert testimony, and other exculpatory evidence that had not only been dismissed, but in some cases excluded by the prosecutor’s office for more than two years." [ii]
The Virginia Constitution accords the Commonwealth's Attorneys broad discretion over the cases that they are presented and holds them accountable to the citizens they are elected to serve. The prosecution of the Weiner case has made the quality of justice in Albemarle County a focus of bipartisan national attention. Prosecutors occupy a unique position of public trust -- they must pursue justice, not merely obtain convictions. As I have emphasized, all members of law enforcement must be held accountable to the highest standards of professional conduct. Blaming Albemarle's law enforcement community for the handling of the Weiner prosecution is unfair and ungrounded.
Albemarle's law enforcement officers deserve better. So do the citizens of Albemarle County.
Robert N. Tracci is a candidate for Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney for the November 3, 2015 election. He served as a Special Assistant United States Attorney in the Bush and Obama administrations, as Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, and as Chief Legislative Counsel and Parliamentarian to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. He helped enact key federal legislation including the Innocence Protection Act of 2004, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006, the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008, and the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators (KIDS Act) of 2008.
As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Tracci appeared in court on behalf of the United States on a broad range of federal criminal matters, including child exploitation, white collar offenses, narcotics distribution offenses, and firearms violations. He appeared before federal district and magistrate court judges representing the United States at preliminary hearings, the entry of plea agreements, sentencing, and revocation hearings. He prosecuted defendants for violations of Virginia law occurring on federal lands within the Western District of Virginia. He also conducted hearings before the grand jury, worked with local, state and federal law enforcement representatives, and co-counseled federal jury trials on matters ranging from drug distribution to murder for hire and obstruction of justice. On behalf of the United States, Mr. Tracci drafted appellate briefs and responses to habeas corpus petitions alleging violations of constitutional rights in state court. He was also assigned responsibility for reviewing motions for reductions of sentence for drug offenses.
More information on Mr. Tracci's background and priorities can be found here.