NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi is called a progressive prosecutor who is, as an elected public official, now reforming Norfolk’s criminal justice system.
But Fatehi is ruffling a lot of feathers, and his critics say he is partially responsible for a spike in crime in Norfolk.
He’s been backed by political activist George Soros. In 2021, when Fatehi was engaged in a fierce primary battle, Soros’s Justice and Public Safety PAC contributed $177,231 to Fatehi’s campaign.
Fatehi won the primary, had no opponent in the general election, and is today one of the most controversial prosecutors in Hampton Roads. It should be noted with no one else on the ballot in the General Election there were 2,140 write-in votes, which was 4.2% of the vote.
WAVY asked Fatehi what his definition of a progressive prosecutor is.
“Deciding whether the punishment fits the crime is the definition of being a progressive prosecutor,” Fatehi said. “My philosophy as a progressive is we don’t waste the community tax dollars, our time, anyone else’s time, on low level things because there is not money or time for it.”
On his election web page, he reminds people he led the charge to decriminalize and legalize marijuana possession, to abolish cash bail, to abolish the jury trial penalty, and to honor the principle that Black Lives Matter.
“When I stand-up here and say, ‘I am not going to put another generation of black and brown people in custody for longer than they deserve so that certain people can take back their downtown’ that is what the story is about.”
Fatehi claims the legacy of systemic racism from redlining to segregation to community disinvestment continues to harm public safety.
“One thing I have done as a reformed prosecutor is limit the distrust in the system and for people to recognize that I know these inequities happen.”
He continued: “It is called ‘mass incarceration’ because it is a conveyor belt where you mechanically apply everything, and then you hammer the low-level people, and it doesn’t matter if you catch the high-level people.”
After he was elected, Fatehi created his plea agreement philosophy and procedures.
He states mandatory minimum sentences present a significant possibility of over-punishment, and he requires that for any mandatory minimum sentence exceeding 30 days, a prosecutor must seek the approval of a deputy commonwealth’s attorney.
We asked him whether his progressive philosophy has led to increased crime in Norfolk, as his critics argue.
“It simply is not true,” Fatehi said. “If you look at progressive prosecutors around the country, on average, have the same rate of crime in their locality or lower than traditional ones.”
But what about Norfolk?
“We have seen a national police shortage. We have a particular shortage of police officers here in Norfolk, and every crime where someone does not come forward to help us solve a violent crime has a potential to generate more crime.”
It should also be noted, Ramin Fatehi is unapologetic.
“I will stand by my commitment to make sure there is one system of justice for the people of Norfolk. There will not be two: one for the wealthy and the white, and one for the poor and the non-white.”