Miyares, Morales discuss dismissed Portsmouth cases in letters

ATTORNEY

Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney, Stephanie Morales, responded to a letter from Attorney General Jason Miyares regarding multiple criminal trial dismissals.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — About a week after 13News Now released an investigation into a series of dismissed criminal cases in Portsmouth, Attorney General Jason Miyares wrote a letter to Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney, Stephanie Morales.

In the letter, Miyares references news reports and calls from concerned citizens regarding two separate criminal trials that were dismissed due to a reported error in the court’s process of submitting a witness list.

RELATED: A man witnessed a murder. Prosecutors omitted his address on the witness list. Now the murder case is dismissed.

One of the cases involved the first-degree murder trial against Jamal Cannon. A Portsmouth judge dismissed the case before the jury even had the chance to deliberate. 13News Now learned it was as simple as the prosecutor submitting a witness list with one thing omitted: the home address of their key witness.

Another case involved a woman who faced several child abuse charges following a daycare fire. 

Portsmouth Circuit Court Judge Brenda Spry considered a motion to dismiss the case, after a defense attorney claimed city prosecutors mishandled the case during a hearing. Agreeing that prosecutors didn’t follow discovery rules, Spry decided to dismiss with prejudice. 

In his letter, Miyares noted these dismissals, saying, “When there are no consequences for committing violent crimes, public safety deteriorates, criminals are emboldened, and innocent victims are revictimized.”

RELATED: Dozens of recent Hampton Roads murder cases have collapsed in court. Here’s why this is happening.

He even referenced the city’s short-staffed law enforcement, saying the city has the highest police vacancy rate in the state at about 34-percent. Miyares expressed concern over how potential candidates for the police department would view the recent dismissals, saying, “if they do not have confidence that the local Commonwealth’s Attorney Office will follow the laws and rules governing prosecution.”

Miyares offered resources from his office, saying he could collaborate with the City of Portsmouth with the program, “Operation Ceasefire.

Morales responded in a formal letter a few days after Miyares sent his in September. Morales defended her office’s work advocating for the protection of victim witnesses, saying she and her team diligently seek justice for victims and accountability for those who have harmed them.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney also pushed back on the claims over the dismissed cases.

Morales wrote to the Attorney General, saying, “As it appears you have relied on news reports, I will share that one instance which you classified as a dismissal due to a prosecutor’s mistake is in fact a dismissal by the court based on inaccurate representations by defense counsel.”

Morales asked Miyares to meet to review the pleadings and motions of the cases they refer to in their letters. 

A spokeswoman for Morales’s office told 13News Now Miyares and Morales plan to meet Monday, November 27 in a closed meeting, “to discuss resources for the city and collaboration efforts.”

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