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Did Jason Miyares’ office sign a plea deal with sheriff’s deputy convicted of sex crime?

person speaks into microphone
Republican Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares speaks at a September candidate forum. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Virginia Democrats clambered to accuse Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares of hypocrisy this week - after learning his office signed a plea agreement with a former sheriff’s deputy and convicted sex offender.

But the question of whether Miyares struck a “deal” at all is complicated.

Back in December, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Deputy Dustin Amos was caught asking an underage girl for sex. The girl was actually an undercover detective in Minneapolis posing as a 15 year old, according to court documents.

Amos was using the anonymous social media platform Whisper to communicate with the detective. On December 17th, while Attorney General Mark Herring was still in office, Amos was arrested and charged with two felony counts of soliciting a minor using an electronic device. According to a plea agreement dated March 3, after Attorney General Jason Miyares had taken office, Amos pleaded guilty to one of those two charges while the other was dropped. Amos is still awaiting sentencing.

“The Attorney General has been attacking Commonwealth’s Attorneys across the state for giving plea deals, but then the Attorney General gives a plea deal to a pedophile cop,” said DPVA Spokesperson Gianni Snidle in a press release. “How can Virginians trust the Attorney General to be our chief law enforcement officer if he can’t even tell the truth.”

Miyares spokesperson Victoria LaCivita told VPM the plea agreement was reached in early January, before Miyares was sworn in. 

“Once an agreement is offered and agreed to, it is treated as contract and cannot be changed,” LaCivita said. “It was simply signed at the pre-assigned court date.”

Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Paoletta signed the agreement with Amos and his attorney on March 3. She worked the case under both Herring and Miyares’ administrations.

LaCivita also took issue with the agreement being labeled as a “deal.” She asserts that the second charge was not dropped because of the guilty plea.

“It was made because the evidence did not support that second charge,” LaCivita added. “There was no ‘negotiation’ or ‘deal.’ This is wholly in line with the duties of a prosecutor to do justice.”

Democrats ridiculed Miyares office for not understanding what a plea deal is - even offering to buy Miyares a textbook.

 “Here at the Democratic Party of Virginia we value education and are happy to enlighten the Attorney General and VA GOP on what exactly a plea deal is,” Snidle said.

The national Democratic Association of Attorneys General also weighed in, distributing a press release accusing Miyares of going “soft on pedophile cop.”

Black’s law dictionary defines a plea deal as "[t]he process whereby the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval. It usually involves the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser offense or to only one or some of the counts of a multi-count indictment in return for a lighter sentence than that possible for the graver charge."

“Characterizing this as a ‘plea deal’ is technically true but misleading,” said Darryl K. Brown, a criminal law professor at University of Virginia. “This is a guilty plea ‘deal’ to the extent ‘deal’ means the same as ‘agreement.’ But calling this a ‘plea deal’ implies that there was a plea bargain in which the state offered some form of reduced charges or leniency in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty, and that’s not the case in this ‘plea agreement.’”

Brown added the prosecutors did not agree to make any specific, non-binding recommendation to the judge about Amos’ sentence, which is typically done for those who sign a plea deal. 

During his campaign for attorney general last year, Miyares promised to take a  “victim-first” approach to the job. And last month, he helped launch the Protecting Americans Action Fund to oust progressive district attorneys, who he says fail to enforce the law and have contributed to rising crime rates. 

While homicide rates in Virginia did increase at record rates in 2020, Virginia’s overall crime rate dropped 10% between 2019 and 2020.