Money Could Stall Sentencing Legislation

Aug 14, 2020

Lawmakers return to the Capitol next week to consider a new budget and criminal justice reforms.

Senate Democrats and House Democrats disagree about one part of a key proposal.

Virginia is one of a handful of states where defendants who are tried by a jury are also sentenced by a jury. That means many defendants opt out of a jury trial because jury sentences tend to be significantly longer than sentences from judges. House and Senate Democrats agree judges should be allowed to sentence defendants who are tried by a jury. But House Democrats want to wait for the Crime Commission to determine how much that’ll cost.

Credit NPR

Senator Joe Morrissey says that’s a mistake.  “What would we do if somebody said we’re not going to exercise First Amendment rights or Fourth Amendment rights because they cost too much? It would be laughable.”

Senate Democrats say they doubt whether increasing the number of jury trials will have any significant cost. And even if it does, they say, Virginia will save money by likely reducing the number of people in jails and prisons.

Senator Creigh Deeds says senators won’t be waiting around for the Crime Commission. "For years, things have been sent to the Crime Commission. They’ve been sent other places for study. We can study all we want. If we want to be bold this special session, we’ll enact this legislation.”

House Democrats say they don’t want to take action until they know what the price tag is, and they won’t know that until the Crime Commission completes its study after the special session is over.

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