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Gravely: Punishment should be based on crime, record
Friday, November 1, 2013
Local lawyer Clay Gravely says “there is great room for improvement” in how the Martinsville commonwealth’s attorney’s office works to prosecute cases.
Gravely, 36, is challenging four-term incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar in Tuesday’s election.
In deciding to run for the office, Gravely said, “I brought something to the table ... a new vision, new ideas on how we prosecute crime in Martinsville.”
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Gravely said he has been a lawyer for 10 years. He spent two years as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney under Ziglar and now is in private practice.
His experiences as a prosecutor as well as a defense attorney give him “a unique perspective,” he said. “I will be able to clearly evaluate each case and make the right decision on how to approach it.”
He said a prosecutor’s goal is “not always a guilty verdict” but “to achieve justice.”
Achieving justice, he said, involves making sure all facts in a case are heard. If the facts support that a crime was committed, justice means a conviction, but if the facts indicate otherwise, “a prosecutor must follow those facts ... and make sure no one is wrongfully convicted.”
“I can’t say” whether Ziglar has wrongfully convicted anyone, Gravely said, but he thinks “some of her policies open the door to that possibility.”
“Each person is different, and each case is different,” he continued. “My approach certainly would be to factor that in” when prosecuting cases.
Gravely said he disagrees with Ziglar’s standard approach of seeking jury trials in drug distribution cases because it “opens the door” to a first-time offender being treated like a so-called “kingpin.”
“A jury is not always the best way to approach” achieving justice, he said.
In jury trials, and when the uniqueness of people and cases is not taken into consideration, he said, “you run the risk of someone receiving a punishment they don’t deserve and ... the risk of someone who is guilty running free.”
Plea bargains can be an effective tool in achieving justice, Gravely said. A plea bargain is when a defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge, which leads a prosecutor to drop a more serious charge against him.
“A general resistance to use” plea bargains “hamstrings a prosecutor’s ability” to prosecute people who are guilty of crimes, he said.
Ziglar has pledged to reduce plea bargains and “professes not to use them a lot,” Gravely said. “I don’t think that’s the best approach ... not knowing what cases you’re going to get.”
“You have to take each case for what it is,” he emphasized, and then decide whether to use a plea bargain, seek a jury trial or use some other method of attempting prosecution.
Gravely said he favors rehabilitation instead of incarceration for first-time offenders who are not a danger to society. However, the seriousness of the crime must be taken into consideration in deciding to pursue rehab, he said — it might be appropriate for a shoplifter, but it is not for a murderer.
State sentencing guidelines take into account factors such as a defendant’s past criminal and/or incarceration history and whether bodily harm was done or a weapon used in committing a crime, according to Gravely.
He noted, though, that “judges are not bound” by sentencing guidelines. They can hand down sentences that are above or below the guidelines, although they “frequently stay in the range,” he said.
Gravely said that if elected commonwealth’s attorney, he will conduct a “top-down review” of the office to see if it can be more effective or efficient.
That includes examining the work of assistant commonwealth’s attorneys and other staff members now employed by the office.
“I have no intention of firing everybody ... or cleaning house,” so to speak, Gravely said. “I will keep as many people as I need.”
But “I can’t sit here and say there won’t be changes” in how the office operates, including some staff changes, Gravely said.
Gravely’s phone number is not published in directories. Whether he decides to publish his number to make himself available to his constituents, if he is elected, will be a decision he will make with his wife, he said.
But “my office door will always be open to people who want to talk to me,” he pledged.
The publication of Ziglar’s phone number was an issue in her first campaign, and she has had it listed in the phone directory since she won that election.
Overall, Gravely said he has “the right combination of experience and the right judgment to do the job (of commonwealth’s attorney) well.”
“No one should doubt my resolve to be tough on crime and enforce the law vigorously,” he said. “I don’t think anyone who breaks the law will want to face me in a courtroom.”
Clay Gravely biography
Name: Clay Gravely
Occupation: Lawyer in private practice
Previous career experience: Assistant commonwealth’s attorney under current Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar from 2008 to 2010; associate member of the Martinsville law firm of Daniel Medley & Kirby PC; litigation associate for the Richmond law firm of Hirschler Fleischer PC; law clerk for Judge Jackson Kiser of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia
Education: Law degree from the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond; bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia
Family: Wife, Jennifer
Civic activities: Vice president of the Virginia Museum of Natural History Foundation Board; member and past president of the Kiwanis Club of Martinsville-Henry County; board member of the Dan River Basin Association; member of the Martinsville-Henry County Bar Association