Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano is proud of his “F”-rating from the NRA, but the anti-gun prosecutor is now facing questions about why his office failed to pursue a case where a northern Virginia man was accused of assault for pointing a gun at another individual.
The Washington Post reports that Descano’s been chastised by a judge in northern Virginia for failing to notify the victim in the case of a court hearing. That victim, John Karau, ended up representing himself in the case after Descano’s office declined to press charges. Karau was successful in his efforts to obtain a conviction, but when his alleged assailant filed an appeal in the case, Descano’s office failed to notify Karau of a new trial date scheduled for last month. After Karau was a no-show at the hearing, attorneys for the suspect argued that the case should be dismissed.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows rejected that motion in a new opinion, writing that the Office of Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano failed in its legal obligation to keep Karau abreast of court proceedings. Bellows ordered prosecutors to inform Karau of any future hearings.
Karau declined to comment, but the legal opinion echoes critiques of advocates, police and some attorneys who worry Descano’s move to withdraw from some misdemeanor cases his predecessor handled could shortchange some victims.
“The Virginia Constitution states that ‘officers of the courts’ will accord victims ‘fairness, dignity and respect,’” Bellows wrote in his opinion. “There would be nothing ‘fair’ in dismissing a case for the nonappearance of a victim when the victim did not receive the advance notice of the trial date to which he was legally entitled.”
Descano’s office said in a filing it tried to notify Karau but did not have his contact information. Bellows pointed out in his opinion that it was readily available from police and in the case file. His office also argued they had no legal obligation to Karau because they declined to participate in the case.
Descano, who’s previously backed the idea of putting more gun control laws on the books, told the Washington Post in a statement that his office just doesn’t have the resources to prosecute every crime committed in Fairfax County, and instead is focusing on “felonies and more serious misdemeanors like domestic violence, sexual battery and drunk driving.”
If that’s the case, then Descano should be opposed to the Democrats in Virginia’s state legislature embracing an anti-gun legislative agenda; creating non-violent, possessory offenses out of the right to keep and bear arms. Instead, the Commonwealth’s Attorney is one of those progressives trying to have it both ways by supporting criminal justice reform while also backing the creation of new criminal offenses surrounding the Second Amendment.
In Karau’s case, however, there might be some justifiable reasons for Descano’s decision not to prosecute. The case is basically dependent on Karau’s own testimony without much evidence to back up his claims.
Karau’s case began one afternoon in August, when he pulled into a Chick-fil-A parking lot in Backlick Plaza in Springfield, according to a police report. Another man, Sherrell Chastain, told a Fairfax County police officer that Karau had cut in line at the drive-through and he had a confrontation with Karau.
The police officer wrote in the report that Karau admitted to cutting in line but claimed Chastain repeatedly approached his vehicle, including one time when Chastain told him he believed in his Second Amendment rights, pounded his hand on his hip and slammed his hand on Karau’s car. Karau told police he thought he was being threatened with a gun.
Chastain told the officer he did not threaten Karau with a weapon but that he did have a concealed-carry permit and had a pistol on his person at the time of the incident, according to the police report.
I can’t help but wonder if Descano is reluctant or unwilling to simply acknowledge the weakness of Karau’s case because it might appear as if he’s defending a concealed carry holder accused of misdemeanor assault. It’s not exactly controversial on the Left for a liberal prosecutor to demand an end to cash bail and the death penalty, but failing to prosecute a legal gun owner accused of assault would definitely be cause for concern among anti-gun activists.
Regardless of Descano’s excuses, the case against Sherrell Chastain will move forward without the input of his office. I’m curious to see what happens on appeal, but I’m even more interested to see if Descano will face any pushback from gun control advocates for not getting involved with the case in the first place.