© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mandatory Minimum Sentences Could Be on the Chopping Block Next Month


Lawmakers will consider a number of criminal justice reforms during a special session next month.

Back in the 1990's, mandatory minimum sentences were popular with lawmakers who wanted to show that they were tough on crime. Now the pendulum has swung in the other direction, and lawmakers are concerned about a recent case where a woman was hit with a mandatory minimum felony sentence for assault when she hit a law-enforcement officer with an onion ring.

Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales says it’s yet another example of how people in power get to live in one world but there’s a different existence for those without power or status.

“When we have members of our community who have assault incidents that aren’t taken seriously, there are no law enforcement responding, they have to go through this extended magistrate process to try to protect themselves," she says. "But then we have law officers who get hit with an onion ring and all of a sudden you have felony charges, that is a complete mismatch.”

House Majority Leader Charniele Herring says creating a better match is at the top of the agenda for the special session. 

“Getting rid of mandatory minimums, we are giving the power back to judges so you don’t have these weird results that we see," Herring explains. "It’s sort of what’s the point of our Sentencing Commission if the legislature is not going to provide judges with the discretion?”

Republicans say de-felonizing assaults against police officers is a radical idea that will make Virginians less safe.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.