Over the past year, since the state of emergency was declared in response to the start of the COVID pandemic on March 12, 2020, Attorney General Herring has made it a top priority to keep Virginians, their families, loved ones, and communities safe and healthy during incredibly uncertain times. Attorney General Herring has been incredibly successful in defending Virginia’s COVID safety measures in court; he made sure that Virginians could vote safely and easily even during a pandemic, and he has taken many important steps to support Virginians.
“This past year has been unlike anything anyone has ever experienced in their lifetimes, and it has forced Virginians to live with uncertainty and fear,” said Attorney General Herring. “My Team and I have worked tirelessly to make sure Virginians, their families, and loved ones remained safe and healthy during this unprecedented public health crisis. From successfully defending the Commonwealth’s COVID mitigations efforts time and again in court, to making it a top priority to ensure that every Virginian feel safe and comfortable voting whether they chose to vote in person or absentee, to supporting Virginians in so many ways during a time of so much uncertainty and unrest, I have not stopped protecting those who call Virginia home and I remain as committed as ever to continuing that important work.”
Successfully Defending Virginia’s COVID Safety Measures
Attorney General Herring has been incredibly successful in defending Virginia’s COVID safety measures and has successfully won at least 25 times in court. These COVID mitigation measures and guidelines have been key over the past year in keeping Virginians, their families and loved ones, and communities safe and healthy during an unprecedented global public health crisis.
Due to the hard work of Attorney General Herring and his team, courts across the Commonwealth ruled time and again that maintaining life-saving measures like in-person gathering limits, temporary stay-at-home orders, school closures, and others were crucial to public health and safety.
A number of the legal challenges to Virginia’s COVID safety measures sought to stop the enforcement of the in-person gathering ban for certain businesses. In Hall v. Northam, for example, the plaintiffs asked the Court to allow for the immediate reopening of gyms, indoor sports facilities, and indoor exercise facilities. The judge, in this case, ruled in favor of Attorney General Herring and denied the request, saying: “I don’t believe that balance of equities tip in [plaintiffs’] favor largely because when you weigh the rights of one small business owner against the rights of the citizenry of the commonwealth, or even in smaller political subdivisions like the county of Culpeper, that you can’t say that his rights outweigh everyone else’s rights to remain free of any disease, illness or other.”
Additionally, Attorney General Herring successfully defended Virginia’s mask requirement twice against legal challenges. In both cases, the plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction allowing them to opt-out of the Commonwealth’s mask requirement and in both cases, the injunction was denied.
Ensuring Safe and Easy Voting Access
Attorney General Herring made it a top priority last year to protect voting rights and protect Virginia voters from illegal harassment or intimidation at the polls. Because of all the work that Attorney General Herring and his team did in preparation for Election Day, including making it clear that absolutely no voter intimidation would be tolerated in Virginia and preparing and planning for any and all outcomes or potential legal challenges, the Commonwealth saw a remarkably smooth and uneventful Election day. In addition to the OAG attorneys who normally represent the Board of Elections and the Department of Elections, Attorney General Herring assembled a multidisciplinary team of attorneys from his Civil Litigation and Public Safety Divisions, Solicitor General’s Office, and other divisions across the OAG, who were on standby, ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice should the need have arisen. The OAG also had lawyers in every corner of the Commonwealth who were prepared to go into court to handle any potential legal challenges.
Virginia also saw historic turnout during last year’s election, especially in early and absentee voting. This increase in voter participation was really possible in part because of Attorney General Herring’s work to make voting as easy and safe as possible during this unprecedented election cycle by crafting agreements to waive the witness signature on absentee ballots, making it easier for disabled Virginians to vote safely at home, extending the voter registration deadline, and blocking the drastic operational changes at the USPS.
Last year’s election cycle brought numerous challenges that prompted Attorney General Herring and his team to develop solutions and put out guidance to make sure every Virginian had a safe, comfortable, easy voting experience, whether they chose to vote early absentee, early in person, or on Election Day.
Attorney General Herring and his team negotiated options to promote safe, secure voting for Virginians who could not or did not want to risk their health to vote in person including:
• An agreement that waived the witness requirement for absentee ballots for Virginians who feared for their safety voting in person
• An agreement that made it easier for Virginians with disabilities to participate in the election safely at home
Attorney General Herring also successfully blocked the Trump Administration’s drastic operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service, when a federal judge granted his motion for a preliminary injunction, explicitly saying in his order that, “at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement.”
Additionally, Attorney General Herring put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that Virginians felt comfortable and protected at polling places across the Commonwealth by:
• Issuing an advisory opinion outlining the protections in both state and federal law against voter intimidation and harassment in response to some reports of potential voter intimidation at a polling place in Fairfax the day after early voting began in Virginia
• Reiterating the voter intimidation protections and outlining the actual duties of poll watchers in Virginia, following President Trump’s alarming rhetoric at the first presidential debate where he urged his supports to “go into the polls and watch very carefully”
• Writing to key law enforcement and elections stakeholder organizations asking for their commitment to ensuring a safe, fair, free, and accurate election, and outlining protections in both state and federal law to prevent voter intimidation and harassment
• Producing a short training video that walks law enforcement and elections officials through his voter intimidation opinion and the various tools that they can use to address potentially unlawful conduct
Supporting Virginians During Uncertain Times
Moratorium on Utility Cutoffs – In response to Attorney General Herring’s emergency petition requesting a freeze in March, the SCC halted all utility disconnections for non-payment. Attorney General Herring successfully requested that the SCC extend their freeze on all disconnections again in April and again in June. In his June filing with the SCC, Attorney General Herring noted that Governor Northam had extended the state of emergency indefinitely and explained that “the existing moratorium should be extended to a point in the future after Virginia’s economy has had an opportunity to resume, allowing impacted citizens an opportunity to regain some financial footing.”
Protecting Virginia Consumers
During the COVID-19 emergency, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office has received more than 500 complaints and e-mails alleging possible price gouging activity and has sent more than 150 investigative letters to businesses. In January, Attorney General Herring announced that he had secured a settlement with Joule Wellness Pharmacy resolving allegations that the business charged unconscionable prices on rubbing alcohol. Investigation of these complaints has largely revealed that many price increases occurred further up the supply chain with manufacturers or distributors that were beyond the reach of the state’s price gouging laws, and this prompted Attorney General Herring to successfully seek amendments to the state’s price gouging law during the 2020 General Assembly special session.
Additionally, in April, Attorney General Herring led a national effort to address price gouging in the PPE supply chain, urging 3M as one of the largest manufacturers of PPE, particularly masks, to do more to address price gouging within its supply and distribution chains that were causing hospitals and healthcare providers to pay exorbitant prices for PPE.
Highlighting Tenant Protections
In July, Attorney General Herring outlined the various state and federal tenant protections currently in place to help Virginians stay in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Attorney General Herring highlighted protections that were included in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act); state protections included in the 2020 Virginia Act of Assembly; powers the Supreme Court of Virginia has to declare a judicial emergency during which unlawful detainer cases can be stayed, continued, or have deadlines modified; and various legislative and executive actions that can be taken to protect tenants.
Herring argues that Congress intended sentencing reform legislation to correct prior injustices, improve public safety, and save taxpayer money
RICHMOND (November 23, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general in urging the Supreme Court not to restrict the resentencing relief that individuals serving harsh sentences can seek under the First Step Act, landmark criminal justice reform legislation passed by Congress in 2018.
Attorney General Herring and his colleagues filed an amicus brief in Concepcion v. United States, a case concerning what information a court may consider when deciding whether to reduce a harsh sentence for a prior crack cocaine offense under the First Step Act. Specifically, the coalition argues that courts should be able to consider intervening changes to the law since the original sentence was imposed, and intervening changes in a defendant’s factual circumstances, such as good behavior in prison or evidence of rehabilitation. The coalition points to a universal consensus that the former federal sentencing regime, which disproportionately punished crack cocaine offenders over powder cocaine offenders, was unjust and had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. The brief also explains how state-level sentencing reforms analogous to the First Step Act have improved public safety and saved billions of dollars and contends that limiting the scope of the First Step Act would deprive both states and the federal government of similar benefits.
“The passage of the First Step Act helped to create a more fair, just, and equal criminal justice system in this country, and we must ensure that those reforms remain in place,” said Attorney General Herring. “When resentencing eligible Americans under the Act, it’s so important for courts to be able to consider intervening changes in the law or in the individual’s factual circumstances to make the most accurate and fair decision. My top priority will always be to ensure justice, equality, and opportunity in Commonwealth and around the country.”
In the 1980s, states and the federal government responded to the prevalence of crack cocaine and public panic about its supposedly unique dangers with aggressive penalties and targeted criminalization. Federal sentencing laws treated crack cocaine much more harshly than powder cocaine, with 100 times as much powder cocaine as crack cocaine needed to trigger the same penalties.
Harsh penalties for crack cocaine exacerbated racial inequality in the justice system. Historically approximately 60 percent of crack users in a given year have been white, but the majority of people sentenced for crack cocaine offenses have been Black or Hispanic. For example, in 2006, around 80% of those convicted of crack offenses were Black. In part because of dramatically harsher treatment of crack cocaine offenses, the average prison time for Black people convicted of drug offenses increased by more than 77% from 1994 to 2003, compared to an increase of less than 33% for white people convicted of drug offenses.
In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the disparity between sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine. The First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill passed in 2018, included a provision that made the Fair Sentencing Act’s reforms retroactive, allowing those serving harsh sentences imposed under the former federal law to seek relief.
In their amicus brief filed in Concepcion v. United States, the attorneys general urge the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court’s decision dramatically limiting what courts may consider when resentencing otherwise eligible individuals under the First Step Act. Relying on their historical experience addressing the crack cocaine crisis and their unique authority as the primary enforcers of criminal law, the states argue that during First Step Act resentencing, courts should be allowed to consider intervening changes in the law and facts because:
There is consensus that applying dramatically harsher sentences for crack cocaine offenses over powder cocaine offenses was unnecessary and unjust: When Congress was drafting the First Step Act, states had uniformly concluded that the extreme differential between sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine was both unwarranted and unwise. Assumptions about crack cocaine’s unique danger and addictiveness—which informed the original decisions to impose harsher sentences—have been discredited, and there is now widespread consensus that crack cocaine and powder cocaine have similar effects.
Sentencing reform has been shown to improve public safety and save tax dollars: States have experimented with sentencing reforms and reduced sentences for drug-related offenses for decades and have seen these reforms improve public safety, strengthen communities, and decrease recidivism. These reforms have also saved states billions of dollars. Congress passed the First Step Act to realize these benefits at the federal level, and the Act should be interpreted in a manner consistent with that aim.
The First Step Act was intended to right historic wrongs: Congress passed the First Step Act in part to correct fundamental injustices in federal cocaine sentencing laws and address the severe racial disparities created by the prior sentencing regime. Sentencing reform is a powerful tool to help correct the extreme over-incarceration of racial minorities for drug-related crimes and promote racial justice. So far, 96% of those granted sentence reductions under the First Step Act have been Black or Hispanic. It would make little sense to require courts to limit the factors they consider in resentencing and apply old rules no longer on the books—including rules rejected by Congress, the courts, and the Sentencing Commission—when Congress passed the First Step Act specifically to correct the unjust and racially disparate sentences brought on by the old regime.
Joining Attorney General Herring in filing the amicus brief are the attorneys general from Colorado, Colorado, Guam, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Virginia State Police urging motorists to be patient and put safety first this Thanksgiving
For many Virginians, Thanksgiving is time to gather with friends and family, commiserate over the trials and tribulations of the previous year and to be truly thankful for blessings around us. These wonderful family moments often start with loading up the car and heading down the road. AAA predicts that 1.4 million Virginians will be traveling for the holiday, which is 11% more motorists than in 2020. With many of those travelers taking to the roadways, patience might be the most important thing to pack.
“With traffic on the roads increasing and many people anxious to get to their destination, I encourage all Virginians to be patient. Buckle up and take your time,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Your family wants you to arrive safely and in a frame of mind to enjoy all the holiday has to offer. Making sure you are driving the posted speed limit, driving for conditions and wearing your seatbelt are the best ways to stay safe on the road, so you can enjoy the holiday.”
To further prevent traffic deaths and injuries during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Virginia State Police will once again be participating in Operation C.A.R.E. – Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort. As part of the state-sponsored, national program, state police will be increasing its visibility and traffic enforcement efforts during the five-day statistical counting period that begins at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, and concludes at midnight Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021.
The 2020 Thanksgiving Operation C.A.R.E. initiative resulted in troopers citing 4,930 speeders and 1,706 reckless drivers statewide. Virginia troopers charged 67 drivers for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and/or drugs, and cited 498 drivers for failing to buckle up themselves and/or juvenile passengers.
There were 12 traffic fatalities during the 2020 five-day Thanksgiving statistical counting period and eight traffic fatalities during the same period in 2019.
This year, the Thanksgiving Holiday C.A.R.E. initiative falls within the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign. This helps to further emphasize the lifesaving value of seat belts for every person in a vehicle.
With increased patrols, Virginia State Police also reminds drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.
Port moves ahead with rail capacity expansion at NIT as board approves $61M construction bid
The Port of Virginia® is embarking on an expansion of its double-stack, on-dock rail operation that when complete will allow the port to handle 1.1 million containers a year via rail.
The process of doubling the size of the Central Rail Yard at Norfolk International Terminals moved ahead Tuesday when the Virginia Port Authority (VPA) Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the project’s $61.5 million construction bid. The work will be done by Allan Myers Virginia Inc., the same company that handled the optimization projects at NIT and Virginia International Gateway (VIG).
Additionally, the VPA board approved moving forward on an $18 million contract with Konecranes for up to three cantilever rail-mounted gantry cranes and their support systems.
When complete, NIT’s Central Rail Yard will be able to accommodate 610,000 annual container lifts; current lift capacity is 350,000 at NIT and 480,000 at VIG. The construction encompasses demolition, pavement work, utilities infrastructure and installation of new railroad track. The work begins in February 2022 and will be complete in late 2023.
The completion of the rail expansion project is timed to support opening of the port’s deeper and wider commercial ship channel. The dredge work to take Virginia’s channel depth to 55 feet is underway and scheduled for completion in mid-to-late 2024 – the wider channel will make way for safe, two-way traffic of ultra-large container vessels.
“In a little more than two years The Port of Virginia will be served by the deepest and widest ship channel anywhere on the US East Coast,” said Stephen A. Edwards, CEO and executive director of the VPA. “Pairing that channel depth with modern terminals and significant rail capacity is going to attract big ships and more cargo volume. We are going to need the rail capacity to support the additional cargo we’ll be getting from this shift of big vessels to Virginia.”
The project will also support further optimization of NIT as the port begins its preliminary planning for expanding the container capacity at the terminal’s North Berth. That project, when complete, will create the throughput capacity to handle 630,000 containers annually. The design work is scheduled for completion by the end of 2022 with construction to begin in the spring of 2023.
“We have a clear roadmap for investment to stay ahead of the curve,” Edwards said. “These projects will help meet the needs of our customers and the cargo owners while giving us the capacity and capability to be the premiere US East Coast destination for rail cargo and big ships.”
Virginia State Police trooper selected for IACP Leadership in Looking Beyond the License Plate award
The Virginia State Police (VSP) is proud to announce the selection of Virginia State Police Trooper Jonathan R. Davis as the recipient of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) 2021 Leadership in Looking Beyond the License Plate Award. Trooper Davis, who is assigned to the Area 22 Office in the VSP Appomattox Division, was recently presented his award by Colonel Gary T. Settle at the VSP Superintendent Awards Ceremony in North Chesterfield County.
“The Virginia State Police is extremely proud of Trooper Davis for being the only law enforcement officer in the nation to be selected for this esteemed recognition,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Trooper Davis’s extraordinary efforts not only disrupted a major credit card theft operation, but also prevented countless, innocent people from being victimized by these suspects. Virginia, and especially Mecklenburg and Lunenburg counties, are fortunate to have Trooper Davis on patrol and protecting their communities.”
The IACP award announcement described the investigation as follows: Trooper Davis has pursued a path of valor, service, and leadership. Trooper Davis’s traffic stop on a minivan and the legal search of the vehicle ultimately uncovered a credit card theft ring that was operated by two foreign nationals residing in New York. The search of the vehicle yielded the discovery of a large bag containing a credit card skimmer, 14 debit/gift cards, and $140,000 in US currency. Trooper Davis proactively contacted the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to determine if the agency had any intel or interest in these two individuals. An agent was dispatched to respond to the scene. The DHS agent ran all the cards through a mobile scanning device and determined that seven of the cards had been rewritten with stolen credit card identifications. Trooper Davis also contacted the VSP High-Tech Crimes Division for analysis of cell phones and other electronics seized from the vehicle to bolster his case and assist the federal agents with their investigation. Trooper Davis pursued state charges while a grand jury indicted both individuals on more than six felony charges.
The traffic stop took place April 23, 2020 along the southbound lanes of Interstate 85 near South Hill, Va. The purpose for the traffic stop was initially for a speeding violation of 84 mph in a posted 70 mph zone. Upon his approach of the vehicle, Trooper Davis observed a homemade, paper license plate taped to the upper left hand corner of the rear window. The license plate information and title the driver presented to him did not match nor were valid, which led Trooper Davis to further investigate and uncover the illegal credit card theft and skimming operation.
The IACP Leadership in Looking Beyond the License Plate Award recognizes the dedication and initiative of individual police officers whose daily efforts during traffic stops play a large part in preventing additional, more severe crimes. This award is designed to substantiate and document the importance of license plates as law enforcement tools and recognize officers who use license plates to prevent and detect both civil traffic violations and further criminal conduct.
Trooper Davis, 32, joined the Virginia State Police in July 2018 as a member of the 129th Basic Session Academy Class. He has been assigned to Area 22, which encompasses South Hill and the counties of Mecklenburg and Lunenburg, since graduating from the academy.
Court of Appeals of Virginia denies appeal by James Fields of convictions after he ran a car into a group of pedestrians in Charlottesville killing one and injuring others
RICHMOND (November 16, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring and his team have successfully defended the convictions of James Fields, who was convicted of running his car into a group of pedestrians during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville killing one and injuring others. In a unanimous decision issued this morning, the Court of Appeals of Virginia rejected efforts by Fields to overturn his convictions.
“We will never forget the mayhem, violence, hate, and death that white supremacists brought to Charlottesville for their Unite the Right Rally, and we must ensure that every individual who broke the law or incited violence on that fateful day is brought to justice,” said Attorney General Herring. “My team and I will continue to do everything we can to put a stop to the white supremacist violence that we are seeing in the Commonwealth and across the country, and I will hold any racist or white supremacist accountable if they act on their hate.”
In December 2018, a jury found Fields guilty of one count of first-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, and one count of leaving the scene of an accident. Following the guilty verdicts, Fields was sentenced to life in prison plus 419 years and an additional fine.
“Appellate review of criminal convictions is an important part of the legal process and our office is pleased that all of Mr. Fields convictions and sentences were unanimously affirmed. I want to thank Attorney General Herring and his team for all of their hard work and dedication on this important case,” said Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania.
Attorney General Herring holds gas station accountable for price gouging
RICHMOND (November 17, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring is holding Richmond-based 7HC Inc. d/b/a 7 Heaven BP accountable for alleged violations of the Virginia Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act. The agreement relates to allegations that the gas station on Williamsburg Road in Richmond charged unconscionable prices on gasoline, a necessary good, after Governor Northam declared a state of emergency on May 11, 2021, in response to a temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies motor fuels and other petroleum-based products to a large portion of the east coast.
This is the third enforcement action Attorney General Herring has taken regarding price gouging following the Colonial Pipeline emergency. Additionally, he has taken enforcement actions against price gouging in relation to the state of emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s unfortunate that bad actors will take advantage of emergencies, natural disasters, or other times of crisis just to line their own pockets,” said Attorney General Herring. “My Consumer Protection Section has been committed to pursuing and investigating allegations of possible price gouging, and we will continue to take action against those businesses that have preyed on consumers and overcharged during an emergency. Virginians should never have to worry about paying too much for gas and other necessary goods during a crisis when they are focused on taking care of themselves and their families.”
Attorney General Herring’s complaint alleges that, during the ten days immediately preceding the Governor’s emergency declaration, the gas station was charging $2.649 per gallon for regular unleaded fuel, $3.199 per gallon for plus (midgrade) fuel, and $3.549 per gallon for premium unleaded fuel. Then, in the evening of May 11, immediately after the state of emergency was declared, the business elevated its prices on all grades of gallons of gasoline several times – eventually topping out at $6.99 per gallon on regular and premium gasoline. A violation of Virginia’s price gouging law is also a violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
Under the terms of the settlement, 7 Heaven BP agrees to be enjoined from engaging in further violations of Virginia’s price gouging law and the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. The business also has agreed to pay $2,000 in attorneys’ fees and has distributed $2,858.70 in refunds to 152 consumers through credit card reimbursements and direct cash refunds. Consumers who purchased gasoline from 7 Heaven BP on May 11, and who have not received a refund, should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section. Complaints should include documentation of the purchase and be submitted to the Attorney General’s Office by no later than February 22, 2022.
The settlement, in the form of an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, has been filed for approval with the Richmond City Circuit Court.
During Governor Northam’s state of emergency that was issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office received more than 500 complaints and e-mails alleging possible price gouging activity and sent more than 150 investigative letters to businesses. Investigation of these complaints largely revealed that many price increases occurred further up the supply chain with manufacturers or distributors that were beyond the reach of the state’s price gouging laws, and this prompted Attorney General Herring to successfully seek amendments to the state’s price gouging law during the 2020 General Assembly special session.
Additionally, in April 2020, Attorney General Herring led a national effort to address price gouging in the PPE supply chain, urging 3M as one of the largest manufacturers of PPE, particularly masks, to do more to address price gouging within its supply and distribution chains that were causing hospitals and healthcare providers to pay exorbitant prices for PPE.
If a Virginia consumer suspects they are a victim of price gouging, they can call the Consumer Protection Hotline or download a complaint form from the Attorney General’s website and submit it in-person, by mail, or by fax. Consumers are encouraged to keep any relevant documentation and submit copies with their complaints. If consumers believe they are a victim of price gouging specific to motor fuel they should file complaints with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Consumers can contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for information or file a complaint:
• By phone: (800) 552-9963
• By email: email@example.com
• Online Contact Form/Online Complaint Form