Governor Northam's Mandatory Minimums Decision Continues to Spark Controversy

May 6, 2019

Governor Ralph Northam made headlines last week when he vetoed a bill that would have established a minimum two month prison sentence for third-time domestic abusers.

In a statement sent out Monday, Republicans say the governor’s veto undercuts protections for people trapped in abusive relationships.

The bill had passed with wide bipartisan support. Here’s the sponsor, Democrat Kathleen Murphy, presenting the measure in committee this session.

“And people are being beaten and beaten and beaten; and that’s what this bill is meant to correct,” she explained.

Republicans say the bill would have given hundreds of victims a two month reprieve, pointing to the fact that half of abusers who wind up in front of a judge more than once currently don’t get any jail time.

Credit NPR

But Mark Mauer, with the Sentencing Project, says -- to him -- that indicates that judges are using their discretion.

“What it tells us is that the circumstances of the offense, the relationship between victim and offender don’t require that a person do jail time,” says Mauer.

Studies show that mandatory minimums don’t work as a deterrent. And, Mauer adds, they have negative consequences – disproportionately impacting African-Americans.

“Because of unconscious bias that may exist,” he says.

That’s why Governor Ralph Northam says he’ll no longer sign any mandatory minimum bills – regardless the crime. Even domestic abuse.

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