VIRGINIA BRIEFING

VIRGINIA BRIEFING

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

ABUSIVE-DRIVER FEES

Reduced Charge Ends Likely Challenge

Arlington County prosecutors reduced a reckless-driving charge against a Centreville man to speeding yesterday, thus avoiding a showdown on the constitutionality of Virginia's abusive-driver fees.

The charge against Charles Mason, 35, was amended downward by 1 mph to 74 mph in a 55-mph zone -- below the threshold for reckless driving -- according to Mason's attorney, Thaddeus Furlong. Mason originally had been charged with traveling 75 mph on northbound Interstate 395 near the Pentagon.

Mason's case was believed to be Northern Virginia's first challenge to the fees, which have triggered widespread uproar.

Mason was fined $95 for speeding, his attorney said. Had he been convicted of reckless driving, he would have faced a maximum fine of $2,500. On top of that, under the new fee law, Mason would have owed an additional $1,050.

Arlington District Judge Thomas J. Kelley Jr. said Aug. 20 that it was premature to rule on the constitutionality issue before a reckless-driving conviction.

"It's better for our client that he avoided a criminal conviction," Furlong said. "But we were ready and eager to argue this."

-- Daniela Deane

HENRY COUNTY

Long Sentence Sought for 'Dirty Cop'

A former rural county sheriff who pleaded guilty to lying to authorities about a scheme to sell drugs and guns seized from criminals deserves a "significant and lengthy" prison term, prosecutors in the southern Virginia case contend in a court filing.

In response, attorneys for former Henry County sheriff H. Franklin Cassell requested that he receive six months of probation, with provisions for home confinement and community service.

U.S. District Judge James Turk is expected to decide today whether to deviate from guidelines that call for a term of six to 12 months.

The U.S. attorney's filing did not specify a sentence but noted that the maximum punishment for the charge is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

"Frank Cassell was a dirty cop," the government brief said. "He betrayed the people of Henry County, and his crimes will never be forgotten. They will remember his lies, and the shame and embarrassment he brought upon their community."

Cassell, 69, and 12 current and former officers were indicted in the corruption case last fall along with seven other people. His was the first of 11 sentencing hearings this week.

-- Associated Press


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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