By Matt Kaminer
Rockbridge County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Billias said Monday that a drug crime initiative he proposed earlier this year could be up and running next year.
Billias, who has been Rockbridge County’s lead prosecutor since January, hopes to implement a drug docket to monitor and track the progress of people on probation for committing drug crimes. Billias believes his plan can begin moving forward, given the recent appointment of Anita Filson as presiding Circuit Court judge. Her term began July 1.
Billias says a drug docket would allow those on probation to report back to court more often and answer to the same judge, which could help lead drug offenders towards a healthier lifestyle, reduce repeat offenses and lower costs.
There is widespread concern with the volume of drug incidents in the area. Lexington Circuit Court Clerk Bruce Patterson noted that the number of drug cases “is not getting any better, and it might even be increasing.”
Virginia State Police records indicate over 50,000 drug crimes were committed in 2014.
Additionally, according to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, alcohol and drugs are a factor in around 80 percent of criminal offenses in the U.S. and Billias believes Rockbridge County is no exception.
“Most cases in Rockbridge County are drug cases, but many felonies also have a drug component to them,” Billias said.
Drug treatment courts are a popular alternative to Billias’ docket proposal, but he insists that they can be costly for a community. A docket, Billias says, poses all the benefits of a drug court while putting the financial burden on the offenders instead of Rockbridge County taxpayers. Billias asserted this stance last fall when he debated Josh Elrod at the Washington and Lee School of Law. The two competed for the position of Commonwealth’s Attorney after Robert “Bucky” Joyce retired.
There are 36 operational drug treatment courts in Virginia; 26 are for adults, six for juveniles, two for treatment of driving under the influence and two for family treatment. The nearest drug court, in the Staunton Circuit Court, is for adults.
While plans for the drug docket are still in the works, Billias says his first eight months in office have gone well, with many plea agreements and only a few jury trials.
“It’s been smooth sailing,” Billias said.