Incumbent Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman and challenger Steve Deaton agree on many things: Each hopes to reduce the jail population, help those who are incarcerated succeed upon their release and to build the community's trust in the criminal justice system.
But where Deaton advocates for more prosecutorial discretion on charges for violent and minor non-violent offenses, Chapman pledges to find better ways to strengthen and improve the network of services that support people who find themselves on the worng side of the defendant's table.
The two will face off Tuesday in the city's Democratic primary. They've been here once before. In 1993, Chapman challenged then-incumbent Deaton as he wrapped up his first term as city prosecutor. Chapman defeated Deaton in that Democratic primary, and has run unopposed in every election since. Deaton said he decided to run two decades later to bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to the office.
"All of these issues I think are important: The death penalty, the number of convicted felons walking around who I think ought not to be convicted felons, that's a big issue," he said. " The statutory requirements give the commonwealth's attorney so much discretion — they have the discretion to make it this charge or that charge."
Deaton, 69, moved to the area about 30 years ago to accept a position as assistant Charlottesville commonwealth's attorney, which he held for eight years before serving one term as the city's top prosecutor. He returned to private practice afterward, before relocating to take doctoral-level courses in criminology at Florida State University.
"I've been a prosecutor, I've been a defense attorney, but I also have this perspective of an academic ... that has really influenced my thinking," Deaton said.
Deaton has publicly supported a moratorium on the death penalty, but when asked later, said he "can't ever say never."
"But I can't envision a case where I would seek capital punishment," he said. "I have a real problem with the state executing its own citizens."
Charlottesville has not executed anyone in more than 100 years, Chapman said.
Deaton said Chapman's office has been too slow to use discretion in cases where defendants are convicted of felonies but receive misdemeanor-grade sentences with little to no jail time.
"If they're only getting a misdemeanor penalty, why label them a felon?" Deaton said, pointing to past prosecutions of women who were receiving government benefits while working and had not disclosed their income to social services. "You've taken someone who was working, was paying taxes, and now she's almost unemployable."
Deaton also supports converting marijuana possession charges to disorderly conduct charges. Chapman said his office has offered this option to defense attorneys in the past and not found support for the practice.
"The first time someone appears in court [on a misdemeanor drug charge] they get a pamphlet asking if they'd like to complete a substance abuse program or move forward with the charge," he said. "They complete the program."
Chapman, 59, said his 20 years in office has have prepared him to take on complex issues and significant cases.
"We've proven that we can handle the most significant criminal case in the country last year, all under the glare of the national spotlight," he said, referring to the trial of convicted murderer George Huguely V, who is serving a 23-year sentence in the killing of his former girlfriend. Huguely's case is pending in the Virginia Court of Appeals.
Chapman came to Charlottesville in 1971 to study at his father's alma mater, the University of Virginia, and he never left.
"I knew I didn't want to take my father's [constitutional] law class," he said, of the decision to study at UVa instead of Indiana University Bloomington, where Warner O. Chapman taught.
Chapman worked in private practice for seven years before joining the Albemarle County prosecutor's office as an assistant commonwealth's attorney in 1988. Chapman said he is most proud of the partnerships he has formed with colleagues in allied court services and the work they've done together to implement a Drug Court and participate in a competitive federal grant-funded program. The city is one of seven sites in the country selected to engage in the Evidence Based Decision Making Initiative, a research-based plan that targets pretrial misconduct and post-conviction reoffending.
If re-elected, Chapman said, he plans to continue work on sentencing alternatives such as using electronic home monitoring devices and implementing a day labor program for people serving weekend jail sentences.
Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail's average daily population has decreased from about 510 prisoners to about 425 prisoners over the past year, said Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. "Chip" Harding. T he Virginia Department of Corrections’ capacity for the jail is 329 beds, said Martin Kumer, deputy superintendent of Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. There were 400 inmates Thursday, Kumer said.
"We've been looking at a number of ways to cut back the inmate population for several years," Harding said. "The numbers have gone down, but [overcrowding] is a concern, and our commonwealth's attorneys should be aware of that."
The winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary will be on the ballot in the Nov. 5 general election. No Republicans have announced plans to run. Anyone wishing to run for the seat must file campaign paperwork with the city registrar's office by 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Warner D. "Dave" Chapman
Hometown: Bloomington, Ind.
Residence: North Downtown
Occupation: Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney
Education: Bachelor's, government department honor's program, University of Virginia; juris doctor, UVa School of Law
Family: Wife, Cyndy, a teacher at Buford Middle School, and their son, Reuben, 20, of Richmond
Hobbies: Kayaking, biking, birdwatching, photography
Hometown: Asheville, N.C.
Occupation: Attorney in private practice
Education: Bachelor's in political science from the University of Tennessee; juris doctor, University of Richmond School of Law; doctoral coursework in criminology, Florida State University
Hobbies: Volunteering with the Charlottesville Track Club