SENATE DEMOCRATS REFLECT ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE SUCCESSES, SETBACKS OF THE 2020 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

RICHMOND -- As the July 1 enactment of bills passed during the 2020 legislative session approaches, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton) released the following statement reflecting on the criminal justice and racial equity bills championed by Senate Democrats during the 2020 legislative session.

Criminal justice reform and racial equity have long been priorities for our Caucus. During the 2020 legislative session, we led the charge as it relates to a range of criminal justice reform issues, from decriminalizing simple marijuana possession to reforming cash bond and jury sentencing. We had some successes but we also faced some setbacks. All in all, this is just the beginning as we respond to the national and global outcry in reaction to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others. We are inspired by how quickly our colleagues in other states have been able to react and we know that the time for progress is now. We have been taking some time over the past few weeks to evaluate our progress and to work out where we go from here. We have been soliciting feedback from our constituents, partner organizations, and colleagues in other states. We are proud of our accomplishments to date and we take a moment to note the progress that we have made -- but there is much left to do.

During the 2020 legislative session, Senate Democrats were proud to sponsor legislation enacted into law to:

  • Establish reporting requirements for incidents involving school resource officers [Locke, SB 170],
  • Establish training standards for school resource officers [Locke, SB 171],
  • Raise Virginia's misdemeanor-felony threshold from being the lowest in the nation [McClellan, SB 788],
  • Codify the end of license suspensions for unpaid court fines [Stanley, SB 1 which incorporates Ebbin, SB 10; Edwards, SB 514; Morrissey, SB 814],
  • Simplified requirements for immunity of persons reporting overdoses to law enforcement [Boysko, SB 667], 
  • Increased Grand Larceny Threshold to $1,000 [McClellan, SB 788],
  • Allow deferred dispositions with dismissal for first offense misdemeanor larcenies [Deeds, SB 286], 
  • Decriminalize marijuana possession [Ebbin, SB 2],
  • Created first new Public Defender’s Office in Virginia since 2004 in second largest jurisdiction in Virginia [Surovell, SB 72], 
  • Prohibit disorderly conduct charges in school settings [McClellan, SB 3],
  • Raise the age for juveniles to be charged as adults [Edwards, SB 546],
  • Remove driving restrictions on restricted licenses for convicts subject to alcohol monitoring [Surovell, SB 439],
  • Authorize resentencing for individuals wrongfully sentenced after the Fishback case [Morrissey, SB 821]. 

Initiatives championed by Senate Democrats in 2020 that we plan to continue to work until we get them signed into law:

  • Eliminate jury sentencing [Morrissey, SB 811],
  • Prohibiting imposition of death penalty to person with severe mental illness [Favola, SB 116],
  • Defelonzing third offense petit larceny [Morrissey, SB 807],
  • Allow jury to recommend leniency [Deeds, SB 326], 
  • Ban sexual relations between officers and inmates or parolees [Marsden, SB 242],
  • Analyze and collect data, reporting standards as it pertains to bail [McClellan, SB 723],
  • Require judges to explain failure to use of recommended evidence-based non-incarceration sentencing alternatives [Surovell, SB 438],
  • Reinstate prosecutors and judges’ authority to reduce/drop charges upon terms and conditions [Surovell, SB 489],
  • Allowing court appointed defendants to seek expert witness assistance on an ex parte basis without involvement of prosecutors [Morrissey, SB 806]
  • Compassionate release of permanently disabled prisoners [Bell, SB 493],
  • Compassionate release of terminally ill prisoners [Bell, SB 493],
  • Expunge marijuana/alcohol/tobacco charges dismissed per successful rehabilitation program completion [McDougle, SB 517],
  • Require Virginia Sentencing Commission recommendations to be published to juries before sentencing [Morrissey, SB 810], 
  • Reduce maximum sentence for robberies without physical injuries from life to terms of years, [Morrissey, SB 805], 
  • Expunge marijuana/tobacco/alcohol/fake ID convictions occurring before age 21 [McDougle, SB 517],
  • Expunge convictions pardoned by Governor [Norment, SB 608],
  • Require recording of all in-custody interrogations [McClellan, SB 730], 
  • Creation and implementation of policies for developmental disabilities [McClellan, SB 716],
  • Defelonize consensual sexting between minors [Surovell, SB 440].
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