LETTER- Discretion is the better part

I'd like to offer a defense lawyer's perspective on Jim Camblos' exercise of prosecutorial discretion. An article in the August 31 Hook [News, "Camblos comments: Controversy continues"] questioned Camblos' decision not to prosecute an auto fatality case and a false police report filed by a former County deputy sheriff.

I am not particularly familiar with those two cases, but I know that deciding not to prosecute is one of the most important– and toughest– decisions prosecutors face. It's easy for people who don't know the facts to criticize these decisions.  

I respect the fact that Camblos carefully weighs the public interest and makes tough calls in good faith. Two cases in which I was defense counsel illustrate the point.

In the capital murder prosecution of Jamie Poindexter [the mentally challenged neighbor who stabbed UVA grad student Alison Meloy in 2001], Camblos declined to seek the death penalty. It would have been easy for him to take the punishment question to the jury, but he determined that the unique circumstances of the case made the death penalty inappropriate. People who didn't know all the facts could have criticized the decision, but in my view, Camblos got it right for the right reasons.  

The other case was a felony prosecution that he took over when an assistant left. When Camblos got up to speed in the attempted insurance fraud case, he quickly saw the mitigating circumstances and reduced the charge to a misdemeanor. His decision not to prosecute the case as a felony meant, among other things, that the defendant would not be deprived of her right to vote. The resulting misdemeanor conviction served the public interest and benefitted a deserving defendant who was employed full time and had an otherwise clean record.

We all make mistakes, and our high-pressure criminal justice system is far from perfect. When it comes to a decision not to prosecute, I know Jim Camblos works hard to get it right and to uphold the public trust.  

James Hingeley
Charlottesville/Albemarle Public Defender