Radford City Commonwealth's Attorney

Chris Rehak

Harry Truman said, "doing the right thing is easy; knowing what the right thing to do is hard." This encapsulates the heart of my work as I apply our community standards to seek justice.  I interweave expansive public-safety objectives with fiscal responsibility, pragmatism and compassion.  All decisions reflect my thoughtful judgement, intelligence and sense of proportion.  I have built a solid reputation of being a fair yet tough prosecutor who is confident, creative and proactive fighting crime. 

We have something very special living here in Radford, a quality of life and sense of security found few places today. My first priority as Commonwealth’s Attorney is to keep our citizens, businesses, visitors and police officers safe.  I pledge to defend, preserve and improve the concepts which promote safe families, safe neighborhoods and safe streets.

Victims of crime are a special class who deserve respect, protection, honest answers and support. My office strives to coordinate resources and disseminate timely accurate information to victims.  Repeated court appearances and travel logistics are inconvenient for victims. We take great strides to accommodate the schedules of our victims to minimize conflicts. Victim input is requested and considered for all aspects of the court case from charging to sentencing.

I work for the people and my office belongs to you.  We are open for questions, comments and walk-in visitors anytime.  An appointment is never necessary for anyone.

We are all human and everybody makes mistakes - some big some small.  For those suspected of wrongdoing, I make every effort to consider the totality of the circumstances; the specific crime, risk caused or harm done and the character and reputation of the accused.  There are many factors we try to evaluate when deciding what is fair to all.  On many first-time less serious charges, I try to give people a second chance.

Every decision I make reflects the goals, morals and objectives of my mission statement. Sometimes my individual judgment supersedes popular opinion, while other times my actions have almost universal support.  While no criminal charge is brought or maintained without probable cause, I demand a higher standard of scrutiny.  I do not initiate criminal charges unless I believe we can prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt to judge or jury.

I provide legal advice to local law enforcement agencies concerning sufficiency of evidence, warrants and similar matters relating to the investigation of criminal cases.  I encourage police to seek this advice as early as possible in the investigation.  I am accessible for consultation 24/7 which allows police in the middle of the night to call me at home and get directions or suggestions about any matter large or small.  As a Roanoke County police officer, I never had immediate access to my prosecutor as a case was unfolding.  This real-time exchange of information has greatly improved our public safety objectives.

Charging decisions and plea negotiations are related.  Statistics show 95% of all felony cases across the country end with convictions by way of plea agreement.  We charge the most serious offense and maximize the number of charges in the event we have a trial.  If a defendant elects to enter a plea of guilty and accept responsibility, my office will routinely drop a few charges to secure the conviction, avoid trial and eliminate appeals. 

Plea agreements are necessary, efficient and only executed after careful analysis of many variables including: seriousness of offense, prior record and victim input. These conviction agreements save time, money, preserve resources and spare victims from the anxiety and uncertainty of trial.  Trials seek the truth and determine guilt or innocence - plea bargaining finds that truth at a substantially lower cost.   

Probation time is obviously preferred by defendants over serving time inside a jail or prison.  Therefore where appropriate, I utilize large amounts of suspended sentence time and active supervised probation time.  This policy allows for flexibility and shorter prison sentences in exchange for longer periods of supervised probation.  Most defendants get the chance to prove themselves thru rehabilitation and reform while the government efficiently accomplishes inmate development and behavior modification.  Often severe sanctions are imposed only if and when defendants violate terms and conditions of probation.   

What constituents should know about punishments, sentencing and case dispositions.  In 1995, Governor Allen passed sweeping legislation in the Commonwealth of Virginia that gave us bifurcated jury trials, abolished parole and created discretionary sentencing guidelines.  These guidelines are average punishments as tabulated across the state and provide for more uniform sanctions.  The guidelines serve as the baseline for most plea negotiations.

What constituents should know about probation violations.  Every felony plea agreement includes some period of supervised probation.  We impose a prison sentence suspended in part or entirely.  The suspended portion is conditioned upon defendant’s good behavior. Probationers are required to pay fines, seek employment, pass drug tests and avoid new criminal charges.  Sadly, many defendants on probation re-offend and are charged with a new felony called a probation violation.  The defendant is arrested again and will face the possibility of getting any or all of the original suspended prison time.  I do not enter into plea agreements for probation violations, as I believe the matter is between the sentencing judge who ordered probation and the noncomplying defendant.

Crime prevention is an integral component of my platform.  I firmly believe my office policy and prosecution patterns deter crime and send a message to the general public.  Criminals know the consequences they face will be swift, severe and certain.

Over the years of preparing difficult cases and presenting complicated trials, my confidence has naturally grown.  As a result, backing down from a tough case or being bullied by defense attorneys is not a factor.  I prosecute the hard to prove cases.  It would be easy to pass up difficult cases and decline prosecution.  Conversely, the "slam-dunk" guilty cases are easy to secure convictions by plea agreement or trial.  The challenge arises when a prosecutor has a case not easy to prove but deserves adjudication.  I fully support victims who want to seek justice despite what might be limited or circumstantial evidence.

I enjoy a strong working relationship with our local defense attorneys.  While we often disagree and have adversarial goals in the courtroom, I have fostered mutual respect through consistency and fairness.  

I believe convicted criminals should pay fines directly to the City when possible.  These funds can then be used for general expenses, schools or even law enforcement.  I identified a flaw in the way we charged individuals with DUI.  In 2004, I started charging these defendants under the City Code rather than the state law.  This distinction redirected fines paid by these dangerous drivers to the City of Radford and not Richmond.  To date this new revenue source generated over
$2,000,000 for our City.  This is just one simple example of my vision and experience resulting in better government for the citizens of Radford.

Almost half of Radford's population are students (7,000) attending Radford University.  I work with administrative officials to cultivate a harmonious relationship with the students and address college related crime.  I also recognize the presence and activities of students can sometimes be a negative experience for our businesses and full-time residents.  I will continue to evaluate input and seek creative solutions as problems arise in our unique environment.

The college generates a large number of alcohol infractions and minor crime resulting from the over consumption of alcohol.  These charges normally include; drunk in public, open container, noise violation, littering and urinating in public.  Where appropriate we use probation for most first offenses.

Fraternity organizations have been known to haze members as a rite of initiation.  My office will continue to investigate and prosecute any and all persons who encourage or participate in hazing.  I have a zero tolerance policy on hazing.

Alcohol fueled non-stranger sexual assaults are a common offense I also aggressively prosecute. Grooming and victimizing highly intoxicated females for one's sexual gratification has unfortunately become a common practice.  The predatory tactic is often accompanied by a fabricated consent defense.  I encourage and assist these victims to prosecute their cases.  In many instances prosecution prompts other victims of the same offender to come forward and report.  I have successfully prosecuted non-stranger serial rapists and ended patterns of repetitive criminal conduct.

Violent crimes like rape, child sexual assault, arson, malicious wounding, robbery and murder are evaluated with special attention.  Over the years, I have prosecuted many of these cases and will continue to work with our police officers and detectives to hold criminals accountable. By imposing long periods of incarceration we remove these dangerous individuals from the community and deter violent crime.  

Over my career I have seen a dramatic increase in school (elementary, middle and high) related offenses and child-on-child crime such as fighting, sexual assaults and bullying. As a prosecutor and parent I recognize these cases require sensitive judgment with prompt and effective resolutions.

The computer is a wonderful invention but also serves as a tool used by criminals.  I support specially trained police who identify and investigate child predators using the internet.  We can intercept child pornography and other dangers or threats sent over the internet.  High-tech investigation tactics allow police to monitor computer traffic and collect evidence for court.  I will continue to protect our children and prosecute individuals who use the anonymity of the internet to exploit children and prey on minors.

The commission of crime by use of a firearm is another separate offense I vigorously prosecute.  The illegal carrying of concealed weapons and the possession of firearms by convicted felons are actively prosecuted as well.  My office also works in conjunction with the federal government through Operation Safe Neighborhoods Project Exile

The manufacture, sale and use of controlled substances are major threats to the safety of everyone.  Drug dealers are often ruthless violent individuals who sell addictive poison for profit.  This illegal poison business in turn ruins lives and destroys families.  My position is strict on drug dealing from prescription pills to meth labs.

Infiltrating these drug rings requires the shrewd application of a well-managed confidential informant program.  These informants are carefully screened and monitored.  Informants are often paid or working for consideration with pending charges of their own.  I created a written contract for these informants and personally meet with each applicant prior to entering our cooperation / police-assistance program.

Appropriately addressing personal use marijuana possession cases has been an evolving challenge, but my progressive approach put our office way ahead of the curve.  In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly decriminalized marijuana possession for the first time.  However, my office began diverting these minor cases under an alternative disposition back in 2013.  The creative and flexible policy we long-ago adopted, allows first-offender marijuana possession defendants to keep a clean criminal record and even expunge the charge later if so inclined.  This foresighted approach was developed after monitoring similar changes in other states and the rapidly shifting attitudes about marijuana.      

I continue to confiscate the assets and proceeds of criminal activity.  These assets are then forfeited to the government for use by police.  To date I have seized and forfeited over
$546,727 in cash, cars, firearms and other property once used by criminals to law enforcement.

All drug addicts need treatment.  Over the years I prosecuted many repeat offenders who failed to get appropriate drug intervention.  We must find ways to effectively treat these defendants.  Untreated drug users are also responsible for a good portion of our property crimes.  

Domestic violence cases are some of the most difficult matters we work on.  Family dynamics make for very delicate and explosive emotions.  Reluctance to participate is often caused by shame, embarrassment, economic factors or even fear of future violent acts at the hands of the defendant.  I am sensitive to the victim’s needs and will faithfully use my authority to help stop the cycle of domestic violence.  When appropriate we employ court ordered partner-counseling, anger management, substance abuse assessments and an eighteen week domestic violence alternatives program for first-time offenders.

Radford City merchants also receive my full attention and enforcement efforts.  It is a crime to write a bad check and a huge burden on our merchants and banks.  I have created and circulated a simple "bad check" instructions form for businesses that get bad checks. My policy of charging those who pass bad checks ensures merchants are fully compensated for the incident while imposing criminal liability when warranted.

I make efforts to share appropriate crime information with the general public, often by way of written media releases.  Some of our work is understandably confidential or implicates privacy concerns for victims and witnesses.  My office will generally comment only after a case has concluded.  Exceptions to this rule include active manhunts, missing persons or an immediate threat to public safety.   I will not make any public comment which creates the potential for community bias.   

No case seemingly generates as much public debate as an animal case.  As a pet owner and animal lover myself, no abuse or neglect is tolerated.  Our animal control department is excellent in the investigation of these cases.  I generally require all convicted animal abusers banned by court order from ever owning companion animals in the future.  I also am tasked with prosecuting those rare cases when a dog attacks another animal or bites a citizen.  These cases can be controversial and emotionally charged but the legal procedures for court intervention are clear and mandated by law.

I understand and appreciate the economic impact my office has on the Virginia State budget.  To reduce costs we limit the cases in which the Commonwealth pays for the criminal defendant's court-appointed attorney.  Those who cannot afford an attorney are provided one at government expense only when a jail sentence is possible.  I have waived jail time for several carefully identified common non-violent first-time offenses (trespass, possession of marijuana, drive suspended, etc.).  Our court now can skip the step of assigning court-appointed counsel, saving Virginia taxpayers thousands of dollars each year. 

I understand and appreciate the economic impact my office also has on our City budget. As a member of the regional jail, Radford taxpayers pay ($30 a day) for each inmate we send to jail.  Long sentences (generally one year or more) are eventually transferred from the local jail to a state facility, and incarceration costs then become a state responsibility.  I review each monthly jail bill and have detected errors.  In April of 2011, I was responsible for $33,581.24 refunded back to the City of Radford.  In January 2013, I again scrutinized the monthly jail bill and found another $16,147.60 error which was credited back to the City.  This investigative work helped change jail accounting measures and saved the City of Radford $200,000 in 2012 alone.  My office has also implemented several innovative policies and procedures which reduce jail costs.

One example of reducing costs while address fairness is what I did with driving suspended third or subsequent offense cases.  The mandatory minimum sentence under Virginia Code section 46.2-301 was 10 days in jail. This was unduly harsh and disproportionate in relation to a crime like drunk driving - where there is not one single day of mandatory jail required.  The mandatory jail sentence punished unlicensed but hardworking people who drove to maintain employment and support a family.  Starting in 2008, my office started to amend and reduce third offense driving suspended to a second offense to avoid the jail sentence.  We normally agree on a fine with a warning to not repeat the offense and encourage defendants to get their driving privileges restored.  In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly amended the law and deleted the mandatory 10 days in jail.       

My office has repeatedly been impacted by budget cuts and manpower shortages. After careful consideration, I decided to radically alter the way we provide discovery.  Instead of mailing case-specific written answers to defense attorneys, we adopted an "open file" policy to fulfill discovery obligations.  Defense attorneys can view, copy or photograph evidence as required under the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia by visiting our office.  Discovery inspections are by appointment and we do not provide access to a facsimile, copy machine or supply paper.  Defense attorneys can however bring laptops, scanners or cameras to produce copies.  This change is a more effective way to disclose case information and saves hundreds of dollars each year in paper and postage costs.  By eliminating this aspect of the Commonwealth's discovery workload, attorneys and staff now can spend more time on other priority assignments.

Unfortunately in 2015, the street-drug heroin made a huge comeback.  This highly addictive drug is relatively  inexpensive and widely available.  We changed laws and radically tightened regulations which affected prescription pill abuse, especially painkillers.  However, many addicts simply turned to the similar opiate, heroin.  News stories every day reveal evermore frightening details about this national epidemic.  My office will continue to work alongside police to be proactive in identifying and specifically targeting dealers.  The prosecution of those caught distributing heroin will be equally aggressive. 

Any questions, comments or suggestions can be directed to Chris.Rehak@radfordva.gov