SSV: Criminal Justice Reform – A Dialogue

James Hingeley (left) and Joe Platania speaking via Zoom.

Speaking at the January 2021 meeting of the Senior Statesmen of Virginia, Commonwealth’s Attorneys from Albemarle and Charlottesville, James Hingeley and Joe Platania discussed the recent changes in law as passed by the 2020 General Assembly and some of the proposals being put forward for the upcoming Session.

The men agreed that their backgrounds led them to better understand why crimes were committed and addressing those challenges would reduce criminal behavior. They see their roles as prosecutors as balancing the safety of the community with the rights of the defendants. They are both known as “progressive prosecutors” and hope that their philosophy will lead to criminal justice reform.

Hingeley and Platania reviewed new laws passed in the 2020 General Assembly including the banning of police from executing unannounced warrants, using choke holds, or conducting searches based on the smell of pot. Other new laws include empowering localities to form police civilian review boards with the power to subpoena and impose punishments. Juries will decide guilt or innocence, but no longer be imposing sentences. Judges will assume sentencing as they can have more knowledge and a better understanding of the law. Also, in certain categories, prisoners can earn good time credit and reduce their sentences.

In response to questions about the effect of the pandemic, both men agreed that trying to reduce jail population has been a goal. A collaborative group including attorneys, jail personnel, judges, OAR, and clerks as well as program services providers are working together to find alternatives to serving jail time. Other topics included: Prosecuting pot infractions, judges deciding sentences rather than mandatory sentencing for convictions.

The two spoke at the Wednesday January 13, 2021 meeting of the Senior Statesmen of Virginia. The meeting was held on Zoom. Following the presentation, questions were taken from the audience. The program was moderated by SSV President Jeff Gould.

Introducing Our Local Commonwealth’s Attorneys

Commonwealth Attorneys Robert Tracci (left) and Joe Platania speaking at the Senior Center in Charlottesville.

“Commonwealth’s Attorney” is Virginia the term for “prosecutor”, the district attorney who goes after the bad guys. There’s a lot more to their job:

  • Prosecutors have wide discretion as regards whom they “throw the book at” and to whom they give second chances by sending them to “diversion” programs such as substance-abuse treatment versus locking them up. How they exercise that discretion is very important in determining the livability of the locality they serve, as New York City residents found when so-called “minor” crimes were ignored.
  • Prosecutors can have a major impact on crime prevention by advising groups targeted by criminals about the scams likely to be tried on them.
  • Prosecutors are among the best expert witnesses when legislators are considering changes to the criminal code or the process for considering criminal cases.

In this podcast, we’ll hear from City Commonwealth’s Attorney, Joseph Platania, and Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Robert Tracci.

Joe Platania was elected Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney this past November but he has been with that office since 2003. For much of that time he also served as a Special Assistant United States Attorney, helping to prosecute federal criminal cases. Joe is a graduate of Providence College and the Washington & Lee University School of Law. Before joining the City Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office he was an assistant public defender and an appellate attorney for the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center. Joe is the current president of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Bar Association.
Robert Tracci was elected Albemarle County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney in November 2015. Before that he had been a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney and a Deputy Assistant Attorney General dealing with violations of federal criminal law. Prior to that Robert had been a senior staff member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, the House committee that deals with criminal law and criminal procedure, voting rights, intellectual property and other areas. Robert is a Phi Beta Kappa alumnus of Ohio Wesleyan University and a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law.


The event took place at the Wednesday January 10, 2018 meeting of the Senior Statesmen of Virginia. The meeting was held at the Senior Center in Charlottesville. Following the presentation, questions were taken from the audience. SSV Vice President Terry Cooper moderated.