Meet Steve Descano, the Rogue Prosecutor Whose Policies Are Wreaking Havoc in Fairfax County, Virginia

COMMENTARY Crime and Justice

Meet Steve Descano, the Rogue Prosecutor Whose Policies Are Wreaking Havoc in Fairfax County, Virginia

Dec 14th, 2020 13 min read

Commentary By

Zack Smith

Legal Fellow, Meese Center

Charles "Cully" Stimson @cullystimson

Senior Legal Fellow & Manager, National Security Law Program

Fairfax County, Virginia, Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano, seen here speaking at the liberal Center for American Progress on Dec. 17, 2019. The Washington Post / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

One of the most disturbing features of rogue prosecutors is their utter disregard for real victims of crime and for victims’ rights under state law. 

Descano has focused his attention on forming a rogue prosecutor group called Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice. 

Unfortunately, with Descano, Soros is getting his money’s worth, to the significant detriment of the safety and well-being of the residents of Fairfax County.

This commentary is part of a series on the rogue prosecutors around the country who have been backed by liberal billionaires such as George Soros and Cari Tuna and the threat those prosecutors pose to victims and others alike. Previous entries in the series have focused on prosecutors in BaltimorePhiladelphiaChicago, and Boston

One of the most disturbing features of rogue prosecutors is their utter disregard for real victims of crime and for victims’ rights under state law. 

It’s one of the cancerous features of this radical new breed of prosecutors.

As we discussed in our major paper on the subject hereGeorge Soros-backed rogue prosecutors also: (1) usurp the constitutional power of the legislative branch by refusing to prosecute entire categories of crimes; (2) abuse their offices; (3) enable crime to explode under their watch; and (4) harm the very people they pretend to care about the most, including low-income and minority individuals.

Here we highlight Steve Descano, the elected commonwealth’s attorney in Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.  Like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Kim Foxx in Chicago, and other Soros-backed rogue district attorneys, Descano—who was elected in November 2019—has no regard for victims or their rights.  Instead, these rogue prosecutors care more about criminals and their rights.

Don’t believe us?  Read about just two cases that have happened on Descano’s watch. Since the first case is ongoing, we won’t use names. 

Mother’s Day Nightmare

On Mother’s Day this year, a woman was driving her minivan with her three children on the Washington, D.C., Capital Beltway. A deranged driver, for no apparent reason, intentionally rammed his SUV into her minivan, T-boning the passenger side near the sliding door and her teenage daughter, and causing all the windows to explode. 

The violent impact pushed the minivan towards the Jersey wall.  With glass flying everywhere, the woman barely managed to keep the minivan from flipping over. Fortunately, she kept it upright, and eventually brought her badly damaged van to a stop. In the meantime, the deranged driver had flipped his SUV, and while he miraculously survived, he ran away from the crime scene to hide. 

By this time, traffic on the Beltway had come to a complete stop. The police and ambulance eventually arrived, where paramedics treated the lady and her children.  When the police looked inside the now upside-down SUV, they saw empty beer bottles spilling out.  They were able to quickly identify the deranged driver and discovered he was already on DUI probation. 

After an exhaustive eight-hour manhunt, officers found the suspect, arrested him, and booked him into jail. The Virginia state troopers who investigated the case talked to the woman and her three children who were in the minivan and eyewitnesses who saw the incident, and based on their investigation and evidence, recommended that the driver be charged with four counts of attempted unlawful wounding, felony fleeing the scene, and other appropriate charges. 

Then Descano’s office got the case. Months passed, and the victims heard nothing.    

That’s significant because victims in the commonwealth of Virginia have specific rights designed to help them navigate the process and to ensure their safety.  The Virginia Constitution provides that victims have the “right to protection from further harm or reprisal through the imposition of appropriate bail and conditions of release” on the offender, and more importantly, the “right to be advised of release from custody … of the offender … .”   

Under the Virginia Constitution, victims also have the “right to receive timely notification of judicial proceedings” and the “right to confer with the prosecution.”  Most importantly, crime victims have the “right to be treated with respect, dignity, and fairness at all stages of the criminal justice system.”

By late summer, the woman who had been driving the van and who was also a career prosecutor from California, realized something was wrong.  She should have heard something by now, but she had not. 

Her husband called the investigating trooper, who informed him that the suspect had been released from jail and that his wife should contact the prosecutor’s office. When the woman called the Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, to her surprise, the receptionist had no information about the case.

Weeks later, a subpoena arrived, notifying her of a date for the preliminary hearing where she would have to testify.

On the Saturday before the Monday preliminary hearing, a prosecutor from Descano’s office finally spoke on the phone with the woman about the case.  He hadn’t spoken with the trooper, didn’t know about the crime-scene photos, and wasn’t aware that other witness statements existed.  So, the woman (herself an experienced prosecutor) told the prosecutor the facts of the case, including that the defendant intentionally turned his SUV into her minivan because she saw him look at her and then whip his steering wheel hard to the left so that he could ram her on purpose. 

After hearing all of this, the prosecutor told her that he would see her in court on Monday.   

Except he didn’t.

When the woman showed up in court for the preliminary hearing, a different prosecutor arrived to handle the case.  He briefly talked to the woman, but hadn’t reviewed the case file, wasn’t aware that her three children were also victims, wasn’t aware of the crime-scene photos, and didn’t know that the defendant had a criminal record and was already on probation at the time he jeopardized her life and those of her three children. 

When the just-hired defense attorney asked the judge for a continuance, the disinterested prosecutor agreed. The preliminary hearing is scheduled for next year. 

Do you think this is an isolated case where only one victim was mistreated?  It’s not.  Sadly, this is par for the course in Descano’s office, and among most rogue DA’s offices. 

As we’ve previously written, rogue prosecutors generally exhibit “a blatant and callous disregard for victims and [for] public safety as a whole.”  And, unfortunately, Descano exemplifies this by ignoring and disregarding victims and their families solely in pursuit of his so-called “progressive” prosecutorial agenda.

Giving a Murderer What He Wants

When he ran for commonwealth’s attorney, Descano promised not to seek the death penalty in any case, even though Virginia law authorizes the ultimate punishment for certain heinous murders.

To gain the backing of Soros and other wealthy liberals, rogue prosecutors such as Descano kowtow to the movement because it bankrolls their campaigns.  Once elected, they’re expected to deliver on their promises. 

So, take the case of Mark Lawlor, whom we have previously discussed

In September 2008, after a daylong bender of smoking crack and drinking beer, Lawlor entered the Falls Church, Virginia, apartment of 29-year-old Genevieve ‘Gini’ Orange, struck her 47 times with either a claw hammer or a frying pan, fractured her skull multiple times, and raped her as she lay dying on the floor of her apartment, where she choked on her own blood.

The prior Fairfax County district attorney prosecuted Lawlor, and a jury convicted him and sentenced him to death. Years later, when a federal court sent the case back for resentencing, Steve Descano was—unfortunately—the commonwealth’s attorney. And true to his Soros-funded campaign promise, he refused to seek the death penalty, even over Orange’s family’s objections. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Descano crowed about his decision, saying that it “is a notable outcome because it exemplifies that our criminal justice system can seek justice, find resolution, and keep our community safe while adhering to our community’s values.”

Really?

We always thought that community values are the laws passed by state representatives, not whatever rogue prosecutors randomly decide they should be.

Sadly, rogue prosecutors like Descano gleefully usurp the constitutional role of the state legislature by refusing to enforce the laws as written and by allowing large swathes of crimes to go unprosecuted based on nothing more than their whims.

Keeping Up With (And Surpassing?) Rollins

In that same vein, Descano was apparently jealous of Rachael Rollins, the elected rogue district attorney in Boston, who is infamous for her list of 15 crimes you can now commit there with impunity, including breaking and entering, assault on a police office, and theft, among others. 

She’s a trendsetter of sorts because Descano followed her lead and is now refusing to prosecute many crimes in Fairfax County. He’s being less transparent about that fact, though, because, unlike Rollins who explicitly listed the crimes she would no longer prosecute, Descano has instead listedonly the crimes he will prosecute, which has the likely intended effect of hiding the shockingly large number of crimes he won’t prosecute. 

And unlike Rollins, who boldly claims in her Rollins Policy Memo, that not prosecuting these crimes makes Boston safer (we’re not kidding), Descano asserts that he can now prosecute only those select misdemeanors because of understaffing

He is also quick to point out that by statute, he is not even required to prosecute misdemeanors. Of course, until Descano, every Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney prosecuted these misdemeanor offenses.

To be fair, Descano’s office is more thinly staffed than some other district attorney offices around the country.  For example, San Diego County has a population of 3.3 million people, and a district attorney’s office of 310 prosecutors (and about 600 support staff, including district attorney’s  investigators). That’s one prosecutor for every 10,645 residents. 

In contrast, Fairfax County has a population of 1.147 million residents, and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has 45 prosecutors.  That’s one prosecutor for every 25,488 residents. 

There are no studies or magic formulas for how many prosecutors an office should have for a given population. And a lot of factors can affect how many staff members a district attorney’s office needs to effectively handle its caseload.

Still, does anyone think that’s really what’s driving this decision? Understaffing does not, and cannot, excuse Descano’s refusal to prosecute misdemeanors that affect the safety and quality of life of residents of Fairfax County. 

Want to know what crimes you can now commit in Fairfax County without being prosecuted by Descano’s office?  Here’s a sampling:

  1. You can steal or shoplift goods valued at up to $1,000.
  2. You can assault most individuals in the commonwealth, including schoolteachers and health care workers.
  3. You can commit arson to defraud your insurance company as long as the property you burned was worth less than $1,000.
  4. You can willfully and intentionally set off a smoke bomb in a school, theater, store, office building, shopping mall, coliseum, or arena.
  5. You can commit prostitution or solicitation of prostitution without any repercussions.
  6. You can participate in a riot.
  7. You can obstruct legal process.
  8. You can obstruct emergency medical services personnel from delivering emergency medical services after the EMS personnel have requested that the obstruction stop. 
  9. You can accept a bribe as a legal process server to delay or omit service.
  10. You can obstruct justice—even by threats or force.
  11. You can knowingly and willfully make a materially false statement to a law enforcement officer.
  12. You can resist arrest.
  13. You can knowingly make a false police report.
  14. You can use a police radio during the commission of a crime.
  15. You can commit some forms of jury tampering.
  16. You can engage in some forms of extortion as a governmental officer.
  17. You can fraudulently make a false entry or erase, alter, or destroy a record as clerk of court or other public officer.
  18. You can aid the escape of a prisoner.
  19. You can indecently expose yourself.
  20. You can drive recklessly, so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of anyone else.
  21. You can possess Schedule III, IV, V, or VI drugs.
  22. You can also possess with intent to distribute certain illegal drugs. 

No doubt, these actions will result in crime increasing in Fairfax County, as criminals will quickly catch on that they can run amok, just as they have in other cities where rogue prosecutors reign. 

Descano was only elected in late 2019, so crime statistics are not yet available. But when they become available, we will certainly highlight them for you.

Birds of a Rogue Feather Flock Together

Descano swept into office along with several other Soros-backed puppets in Northern Virginia. Instead of making Fairfax County safer from gangs and violent street crime, Descano has focused his attention on forming a rogue prosecutor group called Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice. 

As former prosecutors, we find the title both amusing and ironic, since traditional independent prosecutors have always been for justice. 

One of the disturbing features of rogue prosecutors is their dislike of traditional, independent prosecutors, police, and their organizations. Even though traditional independent prosecutors’ policies have created practices and methods that have resulted in the lowest crime rates across the country in 20 years, and the lowest incarceration rates in decades, rogue prosecutors refuse to acknowledge that fact and recoil at working with, or learning from, their fellow prosecutors. 

Case in point: Rather than work with his state prosecutors association, the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys, which has traditionally supported law and order positions, Descano said that he’s committed to traveling “all around the commonwealth to create a coalition of progressive-minded prosecutors, attorneys, advocates, [and] stakeholders to try to act as a counterpoint to VACA.” 

He said, “I plan to [still] be a member so that I can vote when I disagree with policies VACA is pushing.  [But] I will bring to bear the coalition I have built to go down and say, ‘Hey, legislators, you’ve heard this regressive view of the world. Let me tell you a progressive view of what justice should be.’”

He and 11 other Soros-backed commonwealth’s attorneys, including Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehgani-Tafti, Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, and Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, recently sent a letter to the Virginia legislature begging for more power. 

Virginia legislators would be wise to reject their pleas for more power, as rogue prosecutors generally side with criminal defendants, the criminal defense bar, the Black Lives Matter movement and its radical agenda, and typically see the police and traditional independent prosecutors as the problem in the criminal justice system, if not the enemy. 

Moreover, traditional independent prosecutors are the real progressive thinkers, as they have created drug courts, domestic violence courts, teen/peer courts, family justice centers, veterans courts, and hundreds of diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration. 

There’s nothing progressive about rogue prosecutors, except for their radical policies of refusing to prosecute crimes and siding with defendants over real victims of crime.

There are other collateral consequences to these policies, too. For example, Descano’s policies have caused a rift between his office and local and state police. Police don’t trust him, or many of his newly hired assistant prosecutors, who are more aligned with the interests of defendants and the criminal defense bar. 

The likely result?  Crime rates will soar in Fairfax County, just as crime rates have soared in other cities where rogue prosecutors have been elected. Rogue prosecutors Krasner in Philadelphia, Foxx in Chicago, Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore, and others have seen historic increases in violent crime under their policies, despite the fact that violent crime across the country as a whole is at historic lows. 

Unfortunately, with Descano, Soros is getting his money’s worth, to the significant detriment of the safety and well-being of the residents of Fairfax County.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal