Libby's Positions

Role of the Commonwealth’s Attorney

The Fredericksburg Commonwealth’s Attorney prosecutes individuals who commit crimes in Fredericksburg. The elected commonwealth’s attorney must uphold the law. The law charges the elected prosecutor with seeking justice. The elected prosecutor must meet this role with integrity, independence, good judgment, fairness, decency, and hard work. Libby has kept these values throughout her prosecution career and will do so as the Fredericksburg Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Community-Facing Prosecution

The elected Commonwealth’s Attorney should pursue paths that ensure offenders’ accountability for crimes and the protection of victims and community safety in ways that meet the community’s values and interests. A prosecutor’s office can and should engage with community stakeholders to identify the community’s interests and pursue programming for consequences and rehabilitation that meet the community’s interests consistent with public safety.

This approach upholds the law and provides for justice through “community-facing prosecution.” It is a different model than the traditional “authority-facing prosecution” approach that focuses primarily on convictions and incarceration as the default methods of first resort for accountability and public safety.

Community-Facing Prosecution as a Model for the Fredericksburg Office

Community-Facing Prosecution is a well-recognized approach. The National District Attorney Association (NDAA) recognizes the concept under the name “Community Prosecution Model.” In 2009, the NDAA described four “Key Principles of Community Prosecution,” as follows:

1. Recognizing the Community’s Role in Public Safety

Rather than dictating to the public how to handle all crime and safety issues, community prosecutors invite community stakeholders to express their safety concerns, identify neighborhood problems, brainstorm appropriate responses, and help the prosecutor’s office establish priorities.

2. Engaging in Problem Solving

Community prosecutors are problem-solvers who focus not merely on individual crimes once committed, but on such acts within a context. They view individual acts as having a history, potentially a future, and as part of a problem or set of problems within a community. In addressing problems rather than dealing with only individual cases, the ultimate goal for prosecutors is to prevent the next crime.

3. Establishing and Maintaining Partnerships

The criminal justice system is an interlocking network of agencies and departments that depend on each other to operate effectively. Community prosecutors build on these natural connections, encouraging greater communication, improved coordination, and stronger partnerships.

4. Evaluating Outcomes of Activities.

For community prosecutors, evaluating effectiveness cannot be solely decided upon a conviction rate. Community prosecutors must evaluate their activities and impact on neighborhoods, continuously adapting to the community’s needs.

Focus Prosecutor Office Resources on Crimes Against Persons

The crimes that cause the greatest harm need the office’s greatest attention and resources. The structure of the office should prioritize time and resources for the most critical cases. Libby will ensure that this critical need is met. The most critical cases are the cases where a victim has died or suffered great trauma and there are large harms and risks to the community’s safety.

Victim Rights

Assisting crime victims through prosecutions and ensuring that victims have an opportunity to be heard are central components of a prosecutor’s service to the community. By law, victims have the right to participate in the prosecution process even though they do not have decision making authority within the system. The victim is the only stakeholder in a prosecution who has directly suffered the harm and trauma of the crime. While a prosecution is never a personal lawsuit by a victim, the prosecutor’s engagement with a crime victim is a critical component of finding justice in any prosecution.

Young Offenders

The substantial majority of crime is committed by individuals in their teen-aged years and early twenties. In 2021 we now know that young adults are still adolescents in terms of brain development. Young adults in their teens and early twenties still tend to take irrational risks without appreciating the long term consequences. That aspect of young adulthood is a biological difference from older adults: from a standpoint of brain development, true adulthood begins around age twenty-five. Our local justice system needs to recognize that biological reality as a substantial component of the decision-making process on criminal cases.

Socio-economic differences in our society can increase harshness in outcomes for young people in the community. Individuals who enter college or the military spend their early twenties in far more supportive and protected environments than other young adults.

Sentencing Alternatives and Crime Victims

Over the years, Libby has had countless discussions with crime victims.  Many victims advocate for a case outcome that will assure them that the offender has in fact learned a lesson, has remorse, and won’t repeat the behavior.  These victims want accountability that works, whether with or without incarceration. The reality is that many victims often feel dissatisfied by the justice system’s near exclusive focus on incarceration as the only metric of accountability and lack of focus on problem-solving approaches.

It is impossible to guarantee for any victim that a case outcome will in fact prevent future crime and victimization. That impossibility does not mean that we should ignore such an inquiry.  The justice system possesses the flexibility to meet this need when alternative sentencing and problem-solving approaches are prioritized. Sentencing alternatives can provide an opportunity for outcomes that are closer to many victims’ wishes while still allowing for incarceration when appropriate to the case or to the offender’s failure to meet the requirements of an alternative sentence.

Sentencing Alternatives and Offenders

There are two key points to sentencing. First, as much as possible, similarly situated offenders should receive the same sentence.  Second, our community wants to know that the offender will also learn from the punishment and consequences consistent with public safety and move past criminal conduct.

We cannot address the second goal without looking at an offender’s circumstances for mental health and substance abuse concerns as a factor in decision making.  This is a public health lens on criminal behavior.  Looking at criminal behavior from a public health standpoint is an important aspect of accomplishing justice.

Research shows that individuals in jails and prisons are vastly more likely to have serious mental health and substance abuse than individuals in the community as a whole. Our community cannot simply charge and incarcerate our way through these dynamics.

The great majority of offenders are released from jail or prison at some point, most within just a few years (or even less), to return to their families and the community.

Accountability should include not just punishment but opportunities to address the substance abuse and mental health dynamics that can underly the commission of a crime.  Prosecutors should work not just to punish offenders but to also to incorporate opportunities for defendants to rise above and move past criminal behavior consistent with public safety.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Concerns

Libby’s office will take established mental health and substance abuse concerns into greater account in reaching case dispositions. For decades, the criminal justice system has often been asked to serve as the resource of first and last resort for mentally ill individuals in crisis. This takes police away from important work solving and preventing crime and leads to inappropriate use of incarceration at the expense of treatment services and alternatives.

There is often a co-occurrence of mental health and substance abuse conditions. Fredericksburg has the second-largest regional drug treatment court in Virginia, and the local drug treatment court is also one of the oldest such courts in Virginia.  However, some individuals cannot access the drug treatment because of the severity of co-existing mental health concerns with a substance abuse addiction. Libby will develop diversion approaches for these individuals.

Libby intends to establish community partnerships to bring more public health tools to the work of the local criminal justice system. She will promote greater use of treatment and use of diversion for individuals with substantial pre-existing mental health issues.  The community should consider creating a mental health treatment specialty court in the future.  Developing more alternative problem-solving court dockets is an important community need.

Risk-Based Cashless Bail Policy

An exclusively risk-based bail policy is a cashless bail policy.  As the elected Fredericksburg Commonwealth’s Attorney, Libby’s office will have a cashless bail policy for recommending the bails set by the local courts. The Eight Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the imposition of “excessive bail.”  The Eight Amendment is one of the core liberties contained in the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution. The excessiveness or reasonableness of release on bail needs to be understood in terms of a defendant’s risk to public safety, not a defendant’s money.

When bail is defined by money instead of risk, that use of money bail sets up a two-tiered system where individuals without monetary resources may be forced to serve incarceration before any conviction has occurred while defendants in the same circumstances who have more financial resources obtain better outcomes due to their resources.

It is critical to ensure that individuals who pose real risks to public safety are held without bond. It is just as critical to ensure that the individuals who do not pose such risks are not held in jail simply due to an inability to post a money bail. Individuals who are held before their trial may suffer harsh consequences to their lives that similar defendants avoid based only on a difference in wealth. Our community is not safer and does not benefit from a bail practice that prioritizes defendant’s money over defendant’s risk of reoffending or failing to appear pending trial.

Inappropriate and unfair pre-trial incarceration can create cascading bad effects such as the loss of employment and housing.  These effects harm not just defendants but their families as well.  These harms fall disproportionately on people of color. Money should not be the barrier to a defendant’s pretrial release prior to a conviction.

Cashless bail with active pretrial supervision is highly preferable to money bail.  There is no evidence that money bail ensures either public safety or the effective administration of justice better than pretrial supervision. Our local area has a pretrial agency that supervises individuals who are awaiting trial.  Other localities in Virginia and a diverse number of states have successfully implemented appropriate cashless bail policies consistent with public safety.

Felon Voting Rights Restoration

The laws are enacted by our elected legislatures.  The elected prosecutor enforces those laws. In doing so, the prosecutor works to deprive individuals of their freedom because they have violated the community’s laws. The legitimacy of these roles rests on a premise that citizens have the right to choose the officials with the authority to impact their liberty and safety. Like the rights to free speech, assembly, the free exercise of religion, and the right to bear arms, the right to vote is a bedrock, foundational principle for all citizens. The right to vote is especially critical as this right provides the moral basis for the state’s power to use force against any citizen to promote public safety by removing that citizen’s liberty.

As a result, Libby fully supports restoration of voting rights to adult individuals convicted of felonies who have served their sentences, are citizens, and are living in the community. The right to vote is critical to ensuring both the community’s safety and individual liberty.

Racial Disparities in the Justice System

All members of our community have a right to a local justice system that they can trust for fairness. Unfair racial disparities in the justice system are a reality across the nation and in the Commonwealth. There is no reason to pretend that our community is exempt from these difficult realities. In fact, avoiding the issue only puts our community at greater public safety risk by sowing mistrust of the justice system. A local justice system must maintain actual fairness and transparency. The elected Commonwealth’s Attorney must provide leadership in the community on this these issues.