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AG Jerry Kilgore on domestic violence, DNA testing and defining terrorism.


Style: Primary on your agenda is the domestic-violence issue. What are the greatest challenges facing police and prosecutors in Virginia in bringing these cases to justice?

Kilgore: As always, breaking the cycle of violence in the homes to give … the women in Virginia the ability to break out of that cycle by moving out of the house, getting out of that situation and getting into a more positive environment. We just haven't, in past years, had the resources available or the laws on the books for all that to happen.

Why is this the time to bring this up? How did domestic violence become one of the most pressing issues on your agenda?

Well, it's always been important to me. I was a prosecutor in a rural county in Southwest Virginia and so much of our docket was clogged with domestic-violence cases. These were the only cases that we saw where the victims so often came in and asked us to drop the charges.

It was frustrating. You understand that, on one hand, they were in a bad situation and were economically dependent upon the abuser. They so often had children with the abuser and it was difficult for them to get out of this abusive relationship. And it was frustrating as a prosecutor. … because you knew it would just escalate. The only murder cases I tried came out of domestic violence situations.

I saw you were proposing to create a coordinator for domestic-violence victims' services statewide. Do you have anyone in mind for that position?

No, we don't have anyone in mind, but we want to have a statewide facilitator to look at programs, evaluate services. Because, you know this is not the end, this year is not the end of the push … on the domestic-violence issue. It's certainly a beginning for us because I know we need more funding for services in Virginia. But with the budget the way it is in Virginia this year, we will not be able to go in and ask for a large amount of money for different shelters around the commonwealth. That will come. …

But this year, we wanted to make sure we cleaned up some of the laws, and toughened some of the laws. … They've removed the requirement that a married woman cannot charge rape unless she's living apart or the defendant had caused bodily injury by force. They can charge rape now. I think that's an appropriate change in the law.

We also are requiring … a protective-order registry. Because right now in Virginia, the protective orders are entered and victims make this assumption that these protective orders protect them everywhere they go. And while they're supposed to ... we live in a very mobile community here. The officers over there don't know the contents of that particular order. With the protective order registry, if … you're being followed or stalked by an individual that's not supposed to be near you or be in contact with you, then an officer can just pull up the order and enforce the order.

Moving on to another piece of legislation: the DNA-evidence issue. You've proposed that DNA samples should be taken from everyone arrested for a violent felony, not just convicted. Why that shift? And haven't people said that could be a violation of your rights — you're presumed innocent, yet you submit to DNA sampling?

Well, I think DNA is certainly the fingerprint of the future. DNA has been used to not only convict the guilty but to exonerate the innocent, time and time again. I think taking the DNA sample at point of arrest from these violent arrestees — those arrested for violent felonies, like murder, rape and armed robbery — furthers the public-safety interests of the commonwealth.

For instance … we know three of four violent crimes are committed by repeat violent offenders, and we can immediately compare that sample to others' samples, with other DNA samples in our database to determine if other violent crimes have been committed. Or, you know, it can serve to exonerate an individual.

The point is we're losing six months to 18 months waiting on the trials of these individuals, that can be [spent] solving older, commonly called cold cases. ... Our DNA databank is one of the best in the world. We're second only to England right now in the number of entries we have in our database system ... 166,000.

Switching tracks once again, there's a lot of legislation being passed to expand the laws to include terrorist acts. As you know, this has never been done before in Virginia. What was the process like, trying to figure out all the possibilities?

… While reviewing the criminal code in Virginia, we realized we had gaping holes that required us to take immediate action. Both houses of the General Assembly have seen fit to pass legislation that actually adds terrorism as an offense in our criminal code. We define what terrorism is officially going to be, and we expand the death penalty statute to include the evil mastermind — the planner that may not necessarily participate directly. For instance, the death penalty, as it is written today, only applies to the triggermen or -women, if you will, as opposed to the person that sits in their tower and plans it all and watches it being carried out, but doesn't participate directly.

We also think it's important to allow commonwealth law-enforcement officials to seize the assets of terrorists, because so often they have a network — a financing network, if you will — that is established to fund their operation. They may own property, they own bank accounts, and we need to have access to that immediately, once we have the probable cause to charge them with terrorism, to seize their assets and prove in a court of law that they ought to forfeit those assets to victims or to the commonwealth. ...

It's important that we also have penalties for biological threats, as well as nuclear threats, or any violation to the code — as well as increasing the penalties for those... who have hoaxes, or who threaten terrorism. We are at that point in our society where we can't tolerate threats or hoaxes.

For the purposes of Virginia law, how is terrorism defined?

It would require an activity with the intent of opposing the government or overthrowing the government, as opposed to your basic — you know, terrorism would not be someone who just shows up at a government building in a domestic situation and shoots some individuals. ... It would be with the intent to overthrow or intimidate a population. Things of that nature.

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