PRESERVATION OF public safety is among the most important duties of a governor. But two measures being championed by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) would do little to tamp down violent crime and would represent a step backward in the commonwealth’s dealings with juveniles who run into trouble with the law.
The first proposal, introduced in this year’s legislative session as part of the governor’s criminal justice package, would pave the way for more juveniles as young as 14 years of age to be tried as adults. Virginia law already gives judges the discretion to transfer minors charged with felonies into adult courts; it also already gives prosecutors the power to initiate proceedings to move minors to adult venues. Mr. McDonnell’s proposal, however, would increase the circumstances under which minors must be prosecuted as adults; it would also give prosecutors even more latitude in seeking to move juveniles into the adult system. For example, the proposal would allow prosecutors, for the first time, to seek adult prosecution of a minor charged with a second offense of selling marijuana. The sale of contraband is, of course, illegal, but it is not the kind of violent crime that should be considered a possible trigger for throwing a child into the adult system.