Jan 10, 2020 Legislative reform in Virginia is in reach says Fairfax criminal lawyer
Legislative reform helpful to defendants is more in reach than ever in Virginia, says Fairfax criminal lawyer
Legislative reform beneficial to criminal defendants is more in reach than ever in Virginia now that Democrats control both of the commonwealth’s House and Senate for the first time in decades. As a Fairfax criminal defense lawyer, I know that Democrats are not automatically better than Republicans for criminal defendants, but do seem to be better for criminal defendants in Virginia with this legislative session where Democrats have the energy of controlling both chambers.
Legislative reform bills for jury selection, jury sentencing, and more
Virginia Criminal justice reform group Justice Forward has compiled a description of several pro-criminal defendant legislative initiatives for this year’s lawmaking session, including:
Legislative proposal for jury selection / voir dire
One legislative bill will allow potential jurors during voir dire / jury selection to be asked by the opposing lawyers “any relevant question to ascertain whether the juror can sit impartially in either the guilt or sentencing phase of the case…” HB 100 / SB 325. Just as potential jurors in capital murder cases may be asked detailed questions about their views on deciding whether to recommend a death sentence or not against ac capital person convicted of murder, potential jurors in non-capital cases at the very least should know what the sentencing range is for each count being prosecuted against the criminal defendant in their case.
Another legislative bill will permit sentencing jurors to go beyond only being able to recommend the period of incarceration and the fine, to being able to recommend suspending part of the sentence, to make the sentences for multiple counts run concurrently, to impose a probation period, to make full or partial restitution, to perform community service, or receive mental health or substance abuse treatment in lieu of incarceration. HB 279 / SB 326
Expanding discovery available to criminal defendants
Another legislative bill expands criminal defendants’ access to discovery / prosecutorial evidence, including obtaining Jencks material / statements of prosecutorial witnesses, including police reports. To date, Virginia has no Jencks rule, which is part of federal law and many states’ laws. In 2017, the Virginia Senate overwhelmingly voted for expanding the discovery that is available to criminal defendants. HB 873.
Blunting judicial hurdles to criminal case dismissals and deferred dispositions
Senator Scott Surovell — a local Fairfax attorney whose law practice includes criminal defense — has introduced a legislative bill that would effectively overcome hurdles that some judges in Virginia are placing to prosecutors seeking to dismiss such cases as marijuana (not intending to recharge those cases) and to expand the realm of criminal cases that, with the criminal defendant’s consent, can be deferred for a later disposition, to include possible dismissal by satisfying terms and conditions for dismissal that are reached by defense and prosecution. SB 489.
Eliminating mandatory minimum jail and prison sentencing
Senator John Edwards has introduced a legislative bill eliminating mandatory minimum jail and prison sentencing. As much as I want mandatory minimum sentencing abolished, I do not see that happening. SB 537. Let us soon include eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing for DUI cases with elevated blood alcohol levels and repeat offenses.
Please contact your Virginia legislators to urge them to support the foregoing bills.
Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan L. Katz is a top-rated lawyer pursuing your best defense against felony, misdemeanor, and DWI prosecutions. To discuss your case with Jon Katz, please call his staff at 703-383-1100 to schedule a confidential consultation.