The Justice Digest, Issue I

only seals

Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney

for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church

1425 North Courthouse Road, Suite 5200

Arlington, VA 22201

The Justice Digest

Issue I, September 2020

parisa tafti photo

A Message from

Commonwealth's Attorney

Parisa Dehghani-Tafti


Welcome to our very first issue of The Justice Digest, a newsletter capturing and highlighting the work of the Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney in Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. When I sought this office, I made a promise to you that I would be transparent with the community; this newsletter is one of the ways I plan to keep my word.

2020 has been a challenging year on many fronts - while transitioning into our new administration we were almost immediately faced with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and our nation's reckoning with systemic racism in the criminal legal system. COVID-19 completely altered our daily lives and the ongoing racial justice movement has brought to the forefront a long overdue national conversation.

Even so, our office continues to work diligently to ensure our local criminal legal system is one that provides safety and justice for all in our community. In recent months, we have successfully implemented significant institutional changes to better serve you in our mission for public safety and justice while operating efficiently. 

Our first and last priority is to earn and keep your trust. As your Commonwealth’s Attorney, I take this responsibility very seriously. I look forward to our continued partnership as we work together to reform our criminal legal system and pursue safety and justice for all.


Parisa Dehghani-Tafti


Implementing Change

We have worked hard to improve the Office and the criminal legal system in our four core functions: Policy, Community Engagement, Advocacy, and Management.



  • Cash Bail: We stopped seeking cash bail. Instead, we explicitly request release on conditions, such as regular check-ins with the court, or that an individual be held if they are potentially dangerous or a flight risk. We continue to monitor the jail population to ensure that our polices do not result in the inappropriate incarceration of individuals;
  • Reallocation of Resources: We are focusing on the most serious cases, including the prosecution of violence, and have de-prioritized the prosecution of cases that do not pose a public safety risk or harm community well-being;
  • Procedural Due Process: We overhauled discovery practices. Unlike in prior years, defense attorneys are no longer required to come to our office to handwrite notes on files. Instead, we provide electronic discovery. This includes emailing discovery and making available multi-media duplicator machines that allow for the quick duplication of voluminous files;
  • Youth Diversion: We are working with key stakeholders, including the Court Services Unit, to avoid filing charges against youth except in the most serious of cases. Instead, we are working to divert more cases involving our young people;
  • Restorative Justice: We are actively working with Restorative Arlington to establish school, community, and legal system restorative justice opportunities. We have identified test cases that are proceeding along the restorative justice route;
  • Behavioral Health Docket: We worked to help establish the docket, which diverts eligible defendants into judicially supervised and community-based treatment, so that we do not criminalize mental illness. Additionally, we have identified individuals most in need to begin this docket.


Community Engagement:

  • Sexual Assault Response Team (SART): We engaged more actively with the SART team, which increased investment and accountability in our responses to sexual assault. We brought a wide variety of stakeholders together to assess how we are responding and how we can better respond to sexual assault. We continue to work on data visualization to see where the needs for community outreach, education, and support lie;
  • Juror Participation: Prosecutors have traditionally been permitted to strike jurors without cause. Because the Office believes in full juror participation, we enacted a policy limiting and disfavoring these strikes to better ensure a fair cross-section of the community and help citizens discharge their civic duty; 
  • Community Conversations: We engaged with the local community at a variety of panels and events (both virtual and socially distanced) to discuss the state of the Office, our priorities, and criminal legal reform. Among these panels and events were the Feel the Heritage Festival, the Arlington Branch NAACP’s We’re Done Dying Rally, the Committee of 100’s monthly meeting, the Civic Federation’s monthly meeting, the Chamber of Commerce’s New Member Welcome, and a neighborhood conversation on criminal legal reform;
  • Second Chance: We are participating in the Arlington Public Schools Second Chance Advisory Committee and meet regularly with at-risk students in the program for early, hands-on intervention and education regarding alcohol and drug use.


Managing the Office:

  • Improving Technology and Telework Capabilities: The tireless and extraordinary work of the County’s Department of Technology Services; our Office Administrator, Laura Saul Edwards; and our Network Administrator, Michael Cohen, has ushered in a new technology era. Our systems are no longer easily hackable, our case management is in the cloud, our domain is integrated with the County’s and every staff member can telework;
  • Training: We conducted trainings on the effects of criminal prosecution on immigration status, ethics and due process, leadership and anti-bias, and are planning to do many more. When COVID subsides, we also plan to conduct an in-person and in-depth prison visit;
  • Establishing a Vertical Prosecution Model: We reorganized our office along a vertical prosecution model, in which an attorney is assigned to a case from start to finish. 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 sooner, fairer, and more efficiently. For decades the office operated under the horizontal model, in which many cases were not assigned until three weeks before a hearing. 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. Put simply, the old structure made everyone, and therefore no one, responsible for a case while the new vertical model assigns accountability to specific teams who manage a case from beginning to end. The vertical model is a key component of delivering both public safety and justice.



Our Office worked with legislators during the General Assembly Session and continues working with them during the Special Session to support legislation that,

  • Raises the age at which youth can be tried as adults from 14 to 16;
  • Removes disorderly conduct from the criminal code when involving students at school;
  • Permits youth sentenced to life imprisonment to be eligible to be considered for parole after serving 20 years;
  • Decriminalizes (and hopefully legalizes in the next session) adult possession of small amounts of cannabis; and
  • Creating additional legal means for innocent individuals to challenge their convictions.


Our Response to


covid 19 image

We adopted new practices to ensure we can safely continue to serve the public while mitigating the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. Our response plan included the following measures to limit the spread of the virus:


  1. Employee Safety and Well-Being: We implemented several safety measures, including ensuring our employees have the necessary and adequate personal protective equipment. We have also asked our employees to telework when possible to ensure we are adhering to social distancing recommendations and limiting the number of bodies in the office.
  2. Public Safety and Well-Being: We limited the number of hours it is open to the public and has encouraged the public to take care of matters online, when possible. When seeking to demonstrate compliance with parking violation citations, for example, we now allow the public to send proof of compliance via email to For those who must conduct their business in person, they are able to visit the office between 8:30 am and 12:30 pm while wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment and maintaining a 6 ft. distance from others in the waiting room, as marked by signage. Our office also provides gloves, sanitizing gel, and sanitizing wipes for visitors as needed.
  3. Safety and Well-Being in the Jail: We worked diligently with the Sheriff’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office to limit the number of inmates in the Arlington County Detention Facility. Our meticulous efforts allowed us to reduce the jail population, where possible. When considering release, we analyze whether a defendant is a danger to the public, is likely to flee, or is likely to reoffend. We’ve been able to successfully limit the spread of the virus for both the incarcerated individuals and the Sheriff’s Deputies working in the jail, while ensuring public safety.


In addition to our own efforts, the Courts have imposed a mask mandate in the Arlington County Justice Center that requires every individual wear appropriate the face covering throughout the building. The Sheriff’s Office has also implemented temperature checks upon entrance and are limiting the number of individuals allowed in the building and courtrooms at any given time.   Unfortunately, COVID-19 will continue to pose a risk to public safety for the foreseeable future. Our office will continue to work diligently to implement the appropriate changes to limit the spread of the virus.


In the News

Why I'm Fighting for Prosecutorial Discretion

Upon entering office, I immediately worked to follow through on the reform policies I had campaigned on. Specifically, I exercised my prosecutorial discretion to dismiss or nolle prosse certain non-violent, low-level offenses. In response, the Arlington County Circuit Court imposed an order demanding that our office write a brief, accompanied by all factual and legal bases, explaining any and every decision to dismiss charges or enter a plea bargain. The order, unprecedented in the state of Virginia, encroaches upon our right to prosecutorial discretion.


I recently filed a petition in the Virginia Supreme Court urging the court to preserve our office's prosecutorial discretion in Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, following an invasive policy order imposed by the county’s Circuit Court judges. It is not something I wanted to do, but I have no choice. Taking the Court to court to preserve the discretion of this Office is the only way I know to protect the will of the voters who elected me.


Why I am fighting for prosecutorial discretion in Arlington
The Washington Post

Judges are trying to reduce a reform prosecutor’s powers. She’s right to fight back.
The Washington Post

Prosecutor pushes to maintain discretion on dropping charges
The Washington Post

Arlington prosecutor goes to Va. Supreme Court against judges who challenge her new policies
The Washington Post


Over 60 Criminal Justice Leaders Urge VA Supreme Court to Protect Prosecutorial Discretion

Fair & Just Prosecution

Virginia Prosecutor Threatened with Power Stripped for Advocating Reform
The Davis Vanguard


Case Spotlight: Mental Health Support

Unlike traditional prosecutor offices, we have made a conscious decision to measure success by means other than convictions.  Instead, our successes include all the work we – the legal community, the mental health community, and other stakeholders – put into making our community safer while making our system more humane. In August of this year, our office worked with defense counsel to reach a reasonable resolution for a defendant with serious mental health concerns and addiction issues. Rather than advocating for punitive and harsh sentencing measures such as an active jail sentence that would likely exacerbate the defendant’s issues, the parties agreed to a more tailored sentence that included same-day evaluation for treatment and programming. These sort of conditions have become commonplace in the General District Court in 2020, especially when defendants show the desire to address the root causes of their criminal tendencies. There is an acceptance of responsibility by way of a guilty plea, followed by a specific set of requirements that serves to put defendants in the best position for self-improvement.


Many individuals fighting drug addictions and afflicted by mental illness may need multiple chances to improve, and they certainly cannot do it without the proper resources in place. Investing in the betterment of people who are facing such obvious hardships is a great way to help those who may not be able to help themselves, while also working to avoid recidivism, restore faith in the justice system, and make our community safe.


two people raising their hands

Employee Spotlight:

Cari Steele

Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney


A veteran in the Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney, Cari has served as an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney since her initial hiring in 2002. As of January 2020, Cari became Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney, the second-most chief prosecutor in Arlington County and the City of Falls Church.

1. When you’re not arguing cases in court – what does your job look like?
Since becoming Chief Deputy my role has shifted towards more of a managerial role, where I assist Parisa in running and managing the office. My role includes assigning cases, helping guide our attorneys, managing relations with important stakeholders such as the clerk's office and police department, overseeing Grand Jury, and being available to address any questions and concerns from our attorneys, law enforcement officers, and other important stakeholders.

2.  What has been your experience transitioning into a new role under a new administration and in the middle of a pandemic?
It’s been a very steep learning curve. At the very beginning, I was balancing helping assemble our new team while getting to know everyone, learning my new role, and focusing on our office's new direction. As these major changes were happening in January and our office was adjusting to the new changes, we had to keep the trains running and ensure we maintained high levels of communication with the appropriate offices and stakeholders.

Then, the pandemic happened. Initially, it created a backlog of cases because court operated on an emergency-only basis. But, our office was resilient and used this opportunity to switch to vertical prosecution which allowed us get through that backlog of cases in a more efficient manner.

3. What has been the most rewarding aspect of your new role?
2020 came with a great number of challenges. Through COVID-19, we've had to make sure we can continue serving the public and meet our responsibilities in court while still keeping staff and the public safe. 

Meeting these challenges has been its own reward. We've seen the team continue to interact and grow even while distancing. Everyone in the office has stepped up and been there for each other, and our service to the public has succeeded because of it.

4. What has been your most successful project so far in 2020? Why?
I would have to say making the switch to vertical prosecution. It was truly a big shift in our normal operations, which was a difficult undertaking but we were able to transition smoothly. We started out with a backlog of cases but have since been able to move forward and look ahead. 

The new model has improved our attorneys' interactions with police, witnesses, victim/witness specialists, and other stakeholders because they're able to work and communicate with a single prosecutor. They know the prosecutor is sticking with it (barring any emergencies) – so there is no wasted time. Our attorneys are able to build rapport and improve outcomes for each case. 

This is a huge improvement because I can remember preparing entire cases only to have someone else take it due to a continuance in court. Police, victims, and others would then have have to repeat their stories for a new attorney who was starting the same case from scratch. 

5. When you’re not at the office, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy being a mom. I have three children (aged 20, 8, and 5) that I love spending time with. Whether its going to the park or attending their sports games, I can usually be found spending time with them when I'm not in the office.


6. If you weren’t an attorney, what career would you choose?

I received my Bachelor of Arts in English - so I would’ve loved to become a high school English teacher or even a writer.


Looking Ahead: October 2020

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Police Practices Working Group

Drafting the Strategic Plan for Restorative Justice