Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti announced a major initiative in restructuring the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney in furtherance of its mission to ensure both public safety and justice. The office will implement the vertical prosecution model in every case it handles.
Vertical prosecution, considered a best practice, requires that one prosecutor be assigned to each case from start to finish; it permits the assigned attorney to work early and closely with law enforcement, victims, witnesses, and defense attorneys.
For decades, the Arlington Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney operated under a model in which many cases were not assigned until three weeks before a hearing, and, as in an assembly line, cases were passed along from one attorney to the next at different stages of proceedings. This resulted in a costly, wasteful, and inefficient system requiring one or multiple continuances; forcing victims, witnesses, and police to make repeated trips to the Courthouse only to tell their story to a new prosecutor each time; and providing each new prosecutor with only a few weeks to prepare for those hearings.
The vertical model allows attorneys to work with law enforcement sooner and more consistently, speak and meet with victims and witnesses sooner, obtain and provide discovery sooner, develop a deeper understanding and institutional memory for each case, and ultimately gather the necessary input to make educated prosecutorial decisions with greater speed, efficiency, and fairness. Put simply, the old horizontal model made everyone and, therefore, no one responsible for a case while the new Vertical model assigns accountability to specific individuals and their teams.
The vertical structure consists of four teams that reflect the needs of our community. Each team is headed by one of our Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorneys in close collaboration with each other and our leadership team.
• The Circuit Court Team focuses on major offenses with an emphasis on violent crime such as homicide, robbery, burglary and other street crimes like felony assault, as well as drug distribution. This team also houses our treatment court assistants working on Drug Court and the Behavioral Health Docket so that they are well-positioned to screen our most high- risk/ high-needs individuals for the most robust services we can provide.
• The Juvenile & Domestic Relations Team focuses on all events involving juveniles, both as defendants and victims, or household member crimes, as well as intimate partner violence, which includes both misdemeanor and felony domestic violence cases.
• The General District Court Team focuses on all misdemeanor level offenses as well as all misdemeanor and felony vehicular matters with a high impact on public safety such as DWI/DUI and Critical Accident cases. They are also responsible for all misdemeanor and felony general district court cases that occur in the City of Falls Church.
• The Special Victims Team focuses exclusively on all cases involving sex offenses ranging from sexual assault to internet crimes such as child pornography.
Within these four teams, certain attorneys are cross designated to capitalize on the array of prosecutorial and life experience possessed by our diverse team of attorneys.
“The change has been monumental – like turning a battleship on a dime,” said Dehghani-Tafti. “The commitment of our extraordinary staff, the help of the county’s Department of Technology Services, and the collaboration with stakeholders to the transition to vertical prosecution has been instrumental to its early success.
“Even in its early days and during a pandemic we have been able to work quickly with victims to resolve cases, to ensure that our work is efficient, and to view our policies and practices through an equity impact. The vertical model is not just administrative inside baseball: it’s a key component of delivering both public safety and fair and equitable outcomes.”