Voter Guide: Q&A with the only candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney of Albemarle County

Illustrated graphic of map of central Virginia with a purple overlay color.

In Virginia, Commonwealth’s Attorneys — known as district attorneys in other states — are elected for four-year terms and are in charge of prosecuting criminal and traffic offenses. James Hingeley is running unopposed for Commonwealth’s Attorney of Albemarle County.

Hingley is the sitting Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney. He was elected in 2019, and was the only candidate certified by the Virginia Department of Elections this spring, though voters can write in other candidates’ names if they choose.

Charlottesville Tomorrow designed a questionnaire based on over 200 responses we received to a voter survey. The candidate answered these questions by email in August.

Can you explain what the job of Commonwealth’s Attorney is and why you are running?

James Hingeley: The Commonwealth’s Attorney is responsible for prosecuting criminal charges in Albemarle County. The Commonwealth’s Attorney has wide discretion in determining how cases are prosecuted, and I exercise that discretion in ways that promote public safety and ensure fair treatment for crime victims and defendants. Voters in Albemarle County are ultimately responsible for shaping the criminal justice system to reflect their values. I am running to give voters a choice to chart a different course if they believe I am heading in the wrong direction. Having no opponent in the primary or the general election tells me the voters are satisfied with the work I am doing.

What are the biggest challenges facing the office?

Hingeley: I was elected in 2019 to make big changes, and a major transformation to a reform prosecution model has been achieved during my first term in office. Our principal challenge in the next four years is to continue the work of transformation by expanding our reform practices.  My exceptionally hard-working, skilled, and dedicated staff are ready to help me in meeting this challenge.

Do you have any certifications or qualifications for this position that you want voters to know about?

Hingeley: I have 47 years of experience as a lawyer in Virginia. For 43 of those years I practiced as a criminal defense lawyer, including 25 years as chief public defender. During the last four years I have served as Albemarle County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney.

What is your philosophy about prosecuting crimes?

Hingeley: I believe incarceration should be the last resort, not a first response, when holding people accountable for criminal behavior. I believe that diverting people from the criminal justice system while providing supervision and intervention services achieves better outcomes than incarceration. Examples of this in Albemarle County are the restorative justice program, the therapeutic docket for people with mental illness, and the drug treatment court.

More about Albemarle County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney

  • Hingeley’s committee campaign contributions from the Virginia Public Access Project
  • Two Charlottesville Tomorrow reports on the overturning of a 125-year-old indictment of a lynching victim and Hingeley’s explanation about laws against mask-wearing in Virginia.
  • A report in the Daily Progress on Hingeley’s 2019 election victory
  • A 2020 story in the Columbia Political Review about Hingeley’s progressive prosecutions