Public Comments for: SB1266 - Admission to bail; rebuttable presumptions against bail.
Virginia Victim Assistance Network, the statewide member organization for victim/witness advocates around the state, opposes this legislation. Removing the presumption against bond in cases like malicious wounding, strangulation, and murder is extremely dangerous for victims and their families. We risk offenders being released and escalating violence. We ask that you vote no on SB 1266.
SB1266 - Deeds. I urge the committee to support this bill. The code is currently in contradiction to the concept and supposed right to be presumed innocent until/unless proven guilty. The fact that someone can be locked up without bail on the mere basis of the charge flies in the face of justice. This bill will correct a terrible flaw in our criminal justice system. SB1315 - McClellan. I urge the committee to support this bill and conform HB 2047 to this bill. The mental health considerations were stripped from Bourne's bill for what sounded like fears of worst case scenarios and fears that the bill would automatically allow someone with mental illness a free pass. There seemed to be a fear that simply allowing the defendant's mental health issues to be considered throughout the process was equivalent to a not guilty decision for anyone with mental illness. This is a gross misinterpretation. To continue to prevent consideration of defendants' mental illness or presence of intellectual or developmental disabilities is patently unjust - and will allow the current miscarriage of justice which is reflected in the statistics documenting the over-representation of people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and intellectual disabilities in our criminal justice systems. For both SB 1266 and SB1315, these are not bills that are soft on crime as suggested by some. Rather, they rebalance the criminal justice system to consider each case individually with full information rather than acting from a place of prejudgment and retribution.
SB 1266 - Removing the presumption against bail allows for Judges to evaluate bail in a more fair and just manner which aligns with the core tenet of presumption of innocence. Judges can and should be allowed to determine bail on a case by case basis without being forced to start at a presumption against bond. Arbitrary pretrial incarceration makes it difficult for defendant's to assist in their defense and can lead to mental health and medical issues associated with the poor treatment of inmates, especially during a pandemic. SB1315 - Our justice system must include language that allows for the defendant's mental health to be addressed during the case in chief. This bill allows for our state to become more in line with the Model Penal Code. I have had dozens of cases as a criminal defense attorney over the last two decades where an individual with significant mental health issues did not meet the very rigid and narrow definition of insanity and instead were incarcerated for substantial amounts of time after a guilty verdict. These individuals should have been able to present evidence of their mental health at the time of the offense when determining guilt or innocence. It was a travesty of justice that they could not and it is time for Virginia to recognize the need to give those suffering from mental health other avenues for justice. SB1442 - As a former public defender in the City of Richmond I encourage the members of this Committee to vote in support of a Public Defender's Office in the County of Chesterfield. I practice frequently in this County and can say the level of representation by the court appointed counsel is substantially hindered by the lack of resources and low pay for these attorneys. A Public Defender's Office helps level the playing field for indigent defendants by providing those resources currently not available to court appointed counsel, as well as, not making counsel dependent upon the Judge for their source of income. A defendant represented by a Public Defender would have access to an investigator in their case, regardless of the severity. Currently, only the most serious of charges warrants the granting of funds for an investigator. This means defendant's facing misdemeanors and low level felonies, that could result in jail time, do not have access to an investigator who could help locate witnesses, canvas scenes, and provide other pretrial work the attorney cannot or should not be doing. Additionally, the Public Defender's office would have mitigation specialists on staff to help with complex cases or complex defendant's who need more help at the pretrial or sentencing phase of a case. Additionally, thanks to the substantial number of Public Defender Offices across the state attorneys would have access to brief and motions banks for trial and appellate purposes. Lastly, attorneys in this office would have supervision and daily oversight to insure they are held to the high standards put in place by the Indigent Defense Commission for representation of their clients. Real reform of our justice system must include the ability to have counsel that is both qualified and has the resources necessary to be effective in their representation. Thank you.
The Virginia Community Criminal Justice Association would like to provide our support for SB 1266. We support this bill as the elimination of rebuttable presumption addresses the following: 1. Removes the use of presumptive offenses that casts a wide pretrial detention net without careful consideration of actual risk of the person being considered for release. 2. Presumptive offenses are not based on the research and can cause harm if the defendant is held for even a few days. It can significantly impact the families, communities, and the individuals with loss of housing, employment, and other protective factors. 3. People who are detained pretrial are also at a greater risk of entering a guilty plea regardless of guilt. 4. Judicial officers are already equipped with the tools they need to assess whether a person accused of a crime is too great of a risk to be released. 5. Unnecessarily detaining an individual at the pretrial stage subsequently costs the taxpayers money. We believe that Virginia must not punish an individual for being accused of a crime. A fair and just criminal justice system should not further contribute to harm by holding individuals or requiring cash bail that does not consider all relevant risk factors. Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist stated, “In our system, liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial is the carefully limited exception.”
My name is Katie Gardner and I work as an Assistant Director of Victim Witness Services at a Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. I have been working in Victim Services since 2015. I spent some time in Florida at a State Attorney's Office as the sole victim advocate for the office. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology. I've completed well over one hundred hours of victim services training, and have provided training to prosecutors, law enforcement, social workers, etc. on the impact of the criminal justice system on victims and the trauma of victimization. I have emailed this feedback directly to the Chair, Del. Herring, and Del. Leftwich as I am a constituent of District 78. However, I wanted to share my commentary here as well because it is important it be considered. To begin, so much of the legislation making its way through the General Assembly is soft on crime and does not hold offenders accountable. This particular bill is severely lacking in addressing victim safety. A person who commits a violent crime against another has already demonstrated to the court that they are a risk to the public and that victim. https://www.washingtonpost.com/crime-law/2020/08/06/released-jail-height-pandemic-alexandria-rape-suspect-allegedly-killed-his-accuser/ The attached news article addresses a tragedy right here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a man in jail awaiting trial after being indicted on charges of rape, strangulation, and abduction was granted a $25,000 bond when his attorneys argued he was not safe in jail due to the pandemic. Two months, after being granted a bond, the defendant shot and killed the victim who testified against him at preliminary hearing. Even with a presumption, this individual was still granted a bond. Removing that presumption will make it easier for violent offenders to bond out and engage in violent behavior. I got my start in Victim Services in Pinellas County, FL. In Florida, if you are arrested for a particularly violent crime or any domestic related offense, you are held with no bond until you go before a judge. All defendants are seen by a judge within 24 hours of their arrest at what's called an advisory hearing. Years ago, that was not always the case for domestic crimes until one defendant was arrested for a domestic violence charge, bonded out and immediately killed his victim. Even since holding defendants with no bond for 24 hours, offenders have still bonded out and murdered their victims. Florida tried to do better. Now Virginia needs to do better. Virginia's Criminal Justice System is headed down a dark, dangerous, accountability-free path that has many people working in victim services terrified. Please keep these anecdotes in mind when considering this bill. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.