Public Comments for 09/22/2020 Courts of Justice
Last Name: Caldwell-Bono Organization: na Locality: Roanoke County

As a former prosecutor and now doing mostly criminal defense please know that I am a staunch supporter of our LEOs. However, Felony Assault and Battery of a LEO with a six month mandatory sentence is abused too often in the system. A drunk woman or man who taps the officer on the wrist, while saying but officer I am in my driveway, can't you just let me go home does not deserve six months in jail. If the officer is intentionally injured then yes there should be punishment but one should take into consideration the extent of the injury and the particular facts of that case. As to Expungements, Protective Orders that result in dismissal, should clearly be Expungeable. The ease with which these POs are entered these days is appalling and quite often the person seeking the PO has found a way to get the person out of the home and away from the children for those seeking divorce. They are granted on one person's word alone and often the allegation is wholly fabricated. I used to do divorce work and many is the time that I fired a client who planned on doing just that because they wanted a separation and they did not want to leave the marital home and knew that a PO would give them what they wanted quickly. It was a way to get their spouse out of the home. Such a record does irreparable damage to the innocent subject. When it is dismissed it stays on their record and serves no useful purpose! Those records should be subject to an automatic purging/expungement upon dismissal. Some judges already grant Expungement of POs if there is an accompanying criminal charge that is dismissed or noll prossed (as related court records); others lament that they don't think that the statute allows it. As to jury sentencing, it should be the defendant's choice, not the prosecutor's. Jury sentencing is a means of keeping the government in check. Thank you for all of the hard work and needed changes that have been initiated already this session! Best, Debbie

Last Name: Yates Locality: Virginia Beach

It is important that the jury sentencing reform bill pass. As a former prosecutor I can remember back when the juries decided guilt and sentencing at the same time. That was bad enough! But at least they knew what the mandatory minimum was and could exercise some discretion at acquit if the penalties were too harsh. When the process became bifurcated it got much worse. For those very reasons. The jury has no idea what the penalty will be when they make their guilt decision. The system is archaic and needs reform. Let judges do the sentencing. They know how to apply the guidelines and they know about probation and alternatives to prison and jail.

Last Name: Brown Locality: Richmond

I have been assaulted by an offender here at the Richmond City Justice Center. This incident occurred on December 11, 2019. I sustained a Grade 5 Separated Clavicle. As a result, all my tendons and ligaments were damaged. This required me to undergo surgery having two screws and donor tendons implanted into my right shoulder/clavicle. I currently have an upcoming Circuit Court date of October 21, 2020.

Last Name: Gebriel Organization: FAMM Locality: Silver Spring

FAMM is a national expert on medical and geriatric release programs. In our 2018 report, FAMM studied the geriatric and medical release systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We found that virtually all states have some program to consider and authorize the release of people in prison who are elderly or ill. Unfortunately, we also found that almost no states – including Virginia – use their systems regularly to release eligible prisoners whose incarceration no longer furthers public safety. Because elderly prisoners have significantly lower recidivism rates than younger prisoners, and because older and ill prisoners are more costly to incarcerate due to their increased medical needs, geriatric and medical release both reduces prison costs and reserves expensive prison resources. The Fiscal Impact Statement on the bill under consideration bears this out. Importantly, medical and geriatric release upholds human dignity and can reunite families in the solemn and sacred final moments of a loved one’s last days, weeks, or months of life. As originally introduced, SB 5018 would have extended conditional release to cover both terminally ill prisoners and those who are “permanently physically disabled.” In that version, permanent physical disability was defined as “having a chronic or progressive medical condition caused by injury, disease, or illness that renders a person permanently and irreversibly physically disabled and such condition renders the person no longer a threat to society.” This captures serious medical conditions like dementia or stroke, which may not trigger imminent death but nonetheless leave people unable to commit additional crimes and which require extensive and costly medical care. Neglecting to include any medical grounds (other than terminal illness) for conditional release means that Virginia will remain an outlier among states that offer some form of early release based on changed circumstances. In our 50-state survey, FAMM found that every state that offers any form of compassionate release includes one or more provisions addressing medical condition. Virginia is alone among the states in failing to use its early release authority in this manner. We urge the committee to consider including permanent physical disability in Virginia’s conditional release authority. SB 5018 would cover terminal illness, defined as having “a chronic or progressive medical condition caused by injury, disease, or illness where the medical prognosis is the person’s death within 12 months.” We believe extending conditional release to individuals with terminal illness is an important improvement. At present, people who are terminally ill may be considered for executive medical clemency if their death is imminent, meaning they have three months or less to live. That timeframe is unrealistic for a number of reasons, including that doctors are reluctant to make such end of life predictions and that three months is too short a time frame to give a clemency applicant the consideration necessary to make a clemency decision. We believe SB 5018, by adding terminal illness as a condition with an end of life trajectory of 12 months, will help lead to more terminally ill people considered for release. Lastly, we encourage Virginia to consider developing regulations addressing supportive release planning. In our review, the best systems assign staff to assist elderly and terminally ill prisoners with pre-and post-release planning.

Last Name: Nielsen Locality: Spotsylvania

While I was an officer in Fredericksburg I was spit on, bitten, kicked, scratched, and punched. I chose to not prosecute any of these incidents because our general district judge at the time tended to view it as a hazard of our job. For the most part, we all knew if we had to go hands on with someone there was the potential for a fight. Fortunately, I was never seriously injured however many of us felt dismissed by the general attitude toward the "risks" we chose to take. We sign up to do this job to protect our communities and keep the peace. None of us sign up to be assaulted or attacked. Unfortunately, it's becoming socially acceptable to do so. It's not a good time for the legislature to be talking about reducing our protections when it's taken years for us to get them. Fortunately since I've been a Deputy in Spotsylvania, I haven't had any negative encounters with the public. Our Commonwealth does prosecute assault on LE and for the most part, our judges take it very seriously. It's been a pleasure to work in a community where we are shown some respect and appreciation. Hopefully, I'll be able to finish out my career without incident. Respectfully, Dep. D.S. Nielsen SRO Wilderness Elementary School Ofc: 540-786-9817 x8674 Cell 540-809-5446

Last Name: Annan Organization: The VA Coalition for Transforming Police/The Activated People Locality: Herndon

Madam Chairman and members of the House Course of Justice: My name is Kofi Annan, a resident of the 86th House District, President of The Activated People, and a steering committee member of the Virginia Coalition for Transforming Police - a coalition of over 50 organizations. We support SB5030 and SB5032. SB5030 encompasses several demands were derived directly from the Black Lives Matter movement, including desertification of police who violate citizens' civil rights, restrictions on use-of-force, and civilian oversight and accountability measures. SB5032 would reduce unnecessary and erroneous felony charges against civilians' for verbal or minor physical contact. This is not an attack on police, but an attempt to undo the harm caused to communities of color and the disabled community by the common practice of stacking charges. We urge you to vote in favor of these bills.

Last Name: Kelmar Organization: Legal Reform for Intellectually & Developmentally Disabledsuppo Locality: Henrico

I have a child on the Autism spectrum. People with developmental disabilities, like Autism have a “flight or fight response that is more prominent due to their disability. Many of you may be familiar with the ”Nelie Latson” ( who is autistic) case, where a young black teenager was waiting for the library to open, when someone called the police because a young black man with a hoody was hanging around the library. When police approached him, he was frightened and did not know what to do, so he ran and when they caught him, he resisted. The result this teenager ended up in jail and in jail he had the same response. So what started as just a black teenager who just wanted to go to the library resulted in prison which is even more traumatic experience. Unfortunately the Latson case is not uncommon for those families have members with autism. I support this bill and hope you vote yes.

Last Name: Currin Organization: myself Locality: Virginia Beach

I am writing because I am a practicing attorney. I mainly practice in Norfolk and Chesapeake, although I do represent clients all over Hampton Roads. I am first writing in support of SB 5029. The number of cases that I have seen escalate from a pretextual stop is alarming. The majority of the clients who tell these stories are Black. I urge Delegates to realize that the intrusion of being stopped by police for an issue that is not one of safety for the public is an unnecessary intrusion. The fact that a vocabulary has evolved around these "Pretextual stops" indicates that they are not necessary, and are merely a way for a police officer to see if there is anything else they can "catch" a citizen doing. The nature of policing should not be to sniff as close as possible to catch a criminal, but to be keeping us safe from overt danger. The piece of this bill which does not permit the smell of Marijuana to be the sole cause of a search is imperative to the fair policing of our state. Although it is painful and shameful to admit it, citizens of the commonwealth are stopped and subjected to searches and seizures based upon this lie. We must call it what it is. Officers use this because they know it is unable to be tested for veracity. Instances of police untruths regarding what has occurred during their interactions with citizens are more likely to be uncovered in these days, due to cell phone recordings. However, the scent of marijuana is not an issue that one can observe through audio or video. The only way to ascertain truth on this issue is to be present. Since marijuana has now become a civil offense, it is not necessary to allow officers to search entire cars based upon the odor of marijuana. We can keep the Commonwealth safe without this unnecessary intrusion. Without it, the pretextual searches will continue, and studies should be done to see how disproportionately those searches affect Blacks, other people of color, and poorer people. SB 5043 should also be passed, but it does not go far enough. The Commonwealth has decriminalized marijuana possession. As a result, it only makes sense not to burden people who in the past have engaged in this conduct with a criminal conviction. If someone has not been of perfect behavior for 5 years, does it make their original behavior somehow more criminal? No. The bill should not require a perfect record for five years before these expungements are allowed. The bill does not square with the intentions that we have laid out with the decriminalization of marijuana. Finally, I write in support of SB 5032. The assault of a law enforcement officer should be taken seriously. We cannot allow our police and sheriffs to be assaulted, and it should be known that if one is injured, the criminal will be held accountable. However, the power dynamic of officers to civilians is already quite unbalanced. Although we need to protect officers, they should also attempt to deescalate situations. I have seen assaults charged for actions which caused no injury at all, including spilling a tray of food on a sheriff's shoes through the chuck hole of a jail door. Our laws must acknowledge the grayness and perspective of issues such as these. Mandatory minimums do not allow for compassion and common sense. It is high time that perspective be allowed in these cases.

Last Name: Bettis Locality: Norfolk

I respectfully and strongly urge the Delegates of the Courts of Justice Committee to support the critical criminal justice reforms being considered today and advance them to the full House. As a practicing Public Defender, I view these reforms as addressing some of the most chronic flaws in our Commonwealth's criminal justice system. These bills address the worst kind of flaws that deny defendants justice and expose defendants to harsh treatment and sentences based on technicalities and idiosyncrasies rather than the fundamental facts of their cases. One of the worst moments for a criminal defense lawyer is explaining to a client they are facing disproportionately harsh consequences due to a loophole rather than what they actually did. These bills leave police and Commonwealth's attorneys plenty of tools and options for zealously prosecuting serious crimes and criminals. All these bills do is address fringe situations that were unreasonably harsh. Attacks on police will still come with very serious consequences, but a defendant won't face an unreasonable mandatory sentence where all that happened was minimal contact. Jury trials resulting in sentencing by judges does not give defendants unfair treatment, the Commonwealth's judges will sentence defendants carefully and properly as they do in all other cases. Marijuana-based reforms mean police can focus on real crimes instead of outdated and overblown concerns about marijuana. Changes to expungement, compassionate release, freedom of information, and good-time credit will encourage the rehabilitation of offenders and the transparency of our law enforcement system.

Last Name: Cushing Organization: AARP Locality: Richmond

Chairwoman Herring and Members of the Committee, I am representing AARP Virginia. We strongly oppose SB5082, which extends immunity from civil liability in nursing homes - which was clarified by the Governor in Executive Order 60 - to additional providers in the health and long-term care fields. While there may be some circumstances beyond providers’ control for which they should not be held responsible, it is essential that long-term care providers, as well as health care providers more broadly, remain responsible for any negligent actions to ensure long-term care consumers have some protection and opportunity for redress. Thank you.

Last Name: Mahaney Locality: Chesterfield

We have allowed our criminal (in)justice to get out of control. Much of what becomes law is based on emotional reaction and not empirical studies about what works effectively. Incarceration is not the only alternative except in extreme cases. The ‘trial penalty’ has placed a dangerous level of authority into the hands of the prosecutors who are incentivized to get convictions without allowing the defendants the opportunity to argue the facts and processes of the case. They make threats of significantly worse punishment if a plea is not signed thereby intimidating defendants to accept their offer. There is a better way than allowing politicians to base their cases on fear to sway public opinion.

Last Name: Vance Organization: NeuroClastic Locality: Lynchburg

A few months ago, my friend Patrick killed himself. He was the fifth friend in two years, which is not surprising. The average lifespan for someone like me, an autistic person without intellectual disability, is 36.5. The number two cause of death for us is suicide. I’m 40, and my friends don’t often make it to that milestone. Patrick was brilliant. One day, he was high on the thrill of having some grand epiphany. He was a little too animated, and too enthusiastic, telling his friends whatever it was. When he was in that place, he was like a maestro, his hands kind of conducting the symphony in his brain. The police decided that there was reason to believe he was high on drugs. Do you know what happens when you start quoting the Bill of Rights, verbatim, to officers? They arrest you. Do you know what happens when you sneeze while in cuffs? Felony assault on an officer. For “spitting.” One year in jail. Do you know what happens to autistic people in jail or prison? When they're out, they kill themselves. Life is already too hard. Add the trauma of prison and the barrier of a felony assault against an officer, and they can't subsist. The thing is, diagnosis is a luxury for an adult autistic. In my generation, even a child who would have been diagnosed today at level 3 (high support needs) wouldn't receive a diagnosis in the 80s and 90s. If you're autistic and not barking at trains and spouting off facts about lizards, people don't know how to read you, and that's usually regarded with suspicion or antipathy. That's our reality. In Virginia, there are three diagnosticians who will even evaluate adults. None of them accept medicaid. Diagnosis is far more likely to happen for white people, while Black autistics are diagnosed with mood and behavioral disorders. This is well substantiated by research. You’re going to hear almost exclusively from white, college-educated parents of adult autistics with intellectual disability. That’s not enough. That’s not the population most under threat. Autistic people, even college professors, are at a high risk of being arrested. No matter how well we can present ourselves as “normal” in most circumstances, the terror of being antagonized, touched, or manhandled by officers will make it impossible for us to comply. We’re going to be arrested for seeming different, then we're going to be charged for resisting and assault. Raymond Brothers is diagnosed with ADHD, but he’s undiagnosed autistic. He was protesting, on camera, while he was livestreaming and several media outlets were filming. A Virginia Beach police officer stepped in front of him. Brothers tried to step to the side, but his shoulder touched the officer. Right there, with multiple cameras watching, the Captain said, "You assaulted me." It's been published with videos in news media. He's still going to end up in prison. No judge in VB is going to care about evidence. This is not a charge of intentional injury. Those acts get malicious wounding. A felony assault on an officer charge is a way for an officer to ruin someone's life and remove their freedom. There are other charges for actual, intentional assault. Let's not be performative. Intellectually disabled autistics with well-connected, wealthy white families are not the population most at risk. This law has to be abolished, because otherwise it only protects those at the top of the privilege pyramid. To put this on people like me is murder.

Last Name: Ross Locality: Virginia Beach

Good Afternoon Delegates I wanted to first thank you and your staff for all your extra hours this year! And I hope everyone is healthy and safe! I’m a Virginia Voter and have been living in Virginia for 11 years, I’ve only been following Criminal Justice Reform and prison reform bills for the last two years as that’s when my whole family’s lives were turned upside down, and unfortunately most people aren’t even aware that Virginia doesn’t have parole for everyone!! Sorry this is a little long but I wanted you all to know I along with the 900 plus members in my group and the families of the 28,000 people currently behind Our prison walls are going to keep being the voice for the voiceless! We believe that this EARNED SENTENCE CREDITS SHOULD CERTAINLY BE FOR EVERYONE THAT ALREADY EARNS GOOD TIME CREDITS!!! I also did a little research and last years “Fishback Parole went to conference and at that time those 6 people voted in office by the people of Virginia worked hard together to come up with an acceptable compromise so I’m wondering if those inclusions Could be used instead of what this bill currently has! Of course I do truly believe that everyone deserves a second chance, and this is something that they would have to EARN! Thank you so much for reading Frances Ross Virginia Beach Va

Last Name: Beadnell Organization: The Arc of Northern Virginia Locality: Falls Church

The Arc of Northern Virginia strongly supports SB5032, which would remove the mandatory minimum of 6 months in jail for assault of a law enforcement officer and allow the developmental disability (DD) of the individual to be considered by the court. It has become common for people with DD to have encounters with law enforcement. Many in the DD community have delayed processing time, sensory sensitivities, involuntary spastic movements, and a heightened fight/flight response. All of these make it more likely that they would flail or struggle when an unknown officer tried to touch them. Flailing and fear reactions shouldn't mean someone with a disability must spend 6 months in jail. Absolutely more appropriate charges for a serious assault should be considered if real harm is done, but we need to move away from any small contact, especially that directly related to the disability, being cause for spending half a year in jail. In jail, people with DD are bullied, harmed, and suffer worse than other inmates. If you'll pardon the cliche, the punishment doesn't fit the crime.

Last Name: Lukacs Locality: fairfax

I am in support of SB5032, which would remove the mandatory minimum of 6 months in jail for assault of a law enforcement officer and allow the developmental disability of the individual to be considered by the court. This is a huge potential problem for developmentally disabled individuals. Having any "run in" with law enforcement is one of the worst fears of someone who has a developmentally disabled son or daughter. I am not talking about criminals who willingly and maliciously assault our law enforcement officials who put their lives on the line daily. This bill would merely allow the court system to consider those with developmental disabilities and take that into consideration in sentencing. This bill makes sense from a human standpoint. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this proposed legislation and please feel free to contact me if additional clarification is needed.

Last Name: Parker Locality: Troutville

Earned sentence credits at a rate higher than 4.5 days provides incentive to programs that are otherwise ignored. 'Believing that incarceration inherently improves public safety naturally correlates with a belief that reducing time served in prison would have negative consequences since the affected individuals would no longer be incapacitated." As studies show " In regard to the impact of punishment on potential offenders, a key finding is that deterrence is primarily a function of the certainty of punishment, not its severity." Robbery and abduction charges at 21 years of age for robbing a store and telling people to lay down is a terrible crime, receiving a 30 year sentence for that and offering rehabilitative programs that address the reason behind the act, and offering a 15 percent reduction by way of Earning that reduction from good time allows for rehabilitation and only a slight reduction in punishment. Please consider offering the increased earned sentence credits to more than the non violent offenders, most of them are not even serving substantial time. On a more compassionate level remember that Moses, murdered a man (Exodus 2:11-15); Jonah, who fled from God's command (Jonah 1); David, who committed adultery and had a man murdered (2 Samuel 11:14-17); Rahab, was a prostitute in Jericho (Joshua 2); and Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus after spending three years with Him (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62, John 18:15-17 and 25-27). Second Chances for the people who can rehabilitate and assist in making their community better. Quotes from The Sentencing Project -The article appears in the UMKC Law Review, Vol. 87:1.

Last Name: Kelty Locality: Fairfax Station

VOTE YES on SB5032 which would remove the mandatory minimum of 6 months in jail for assault of a law enforcement officer and allow the developmental disability of the individual to be considered by the court. I have law enforcement officers in my family. Their safety is of utmost importance to me. However, the current law unjustly punishes individuals with developmental disabilities for even very minor offenses and places a burden on families and legal and prison systems that are already burdened. Please vote "YES" for common sense. Thank you for your consideration on this important matter.

Last Name: Paul Locality: Fairfax County

Please VOTE YES on SB5032, which would remove the mandatory minimum of 6 months in jail for assault of a law enforcement officer and allow the developmental disability of the individual to be considered by the court. When individuals have developmental or other disabilities that impair their ability to follow directives from Law Enforcement Officers, they may exhibit behaviors that are a manifestation of their disability and not within their control. Consideration must be given to their disability if they are charged with assault on an officer.

Last Name: Debrot Locality: Augusta County

Please clarify: Do SB 5034 and HB 5148 exclude from their benefits those who have committed the offenses of child porn possession and/or distribution? There seems to be a difference in interpretation. The item in question is 18.2-370.2 (sex offenses which prohibit proximity to children; penalty). This is part of Article 4, Chapter 8, Title 18.2, which lists some of the felony offenses that are excluded from the benefits of SB 5034. We are not lawyers, but we understand this to mean that those who have committed the offenses enumerated in 18.2-370.2 (which includes CP possession and distribution, among many others) are excluded. HB 5148 also carves out offenses listed in Article 4, Chapter 8, Title 18.2 but then in listing offenses under Article 5 it exempts CP possession (18.2-374.1:1 subsection A) from being excluded from the benefits of the bill. If CP possession is excluded based on being listed under Article 4, but included under Article 5, then there is a discrepancy here. Those who have been convicted of both CP possession (18.2-374.1:1 subsection A) and CP distribution (18.2-374.1:1 subsection C) deserve a chance to earn sentence credits at the increased rate. Unlike the PRODUCTION of CP, which does exploit children in horrible ways, neither CP possession nor distribution deliberately or directly harms anyone, as disgusting and immoral as it might be. If those convicted of possessing CP are included in the benefits of these bill, then those convicted of distribution should also be. In this age of internet technology “distribution” does not mean what it appears to mean. In the pre-internet era of distributing physical photos or CD’s of child porn a person actively sold and promoted its sale. Today it means that images of CP are downloaded from the internet using peer-to-peer software, allowing files to be shared without the intent of the CP user, and the images seized without his knowledge. Virtually all of those imprisoned for CP distribution were caught in sting operations and the police were the only ones to whom the images were “distributed”.

Last Name: Tolley Locality: Henrico

Please vote yes on SB5032. The majority of these charges report NO PHYSICAL INJURY, but the police give a charge of assault (see page 76 of the State Police Report). If there truly is an assault on an LEO, there are charges for this serious crime but the Judge must be given the discretion to consider the disability of the individual in minor cases where there are little if NO injuries. This is ALL this does other than removing the mandatory minimum of 6 months. "Any person charged with committing an offense in violation of this subsection where the degree of culpability is slight, due to such person's diminished physical or mental capacity or pervasive developmental disorder, or if there is no bodily injury, a jury or the court may find the accused not guilty of violating this subsection but guilty of a simple assault or assault and battery in violation of subsection A, punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor." This bill is needed to protect kids who are inappropriately charged with assault on a law officer when they are escalated by overzealous school resource officers and who don't understand the difference between volitional and nonvolitional behaviors. This will help stop the criminalization of student behaviors, of non-voluntary behaviors - and help stop the school to prison pipeline. Please vote yes on SB5032.

Last Name: Turner Locality: Harrisonburg

Hello, Today the House Courts of Justice Committee will review Sen Boysko's SB5034 Prisoner Early Release. This bill has been approved by the Crime Commission and so I am asking that you Vote YES for this Bill with NO further Exclusions. Senator Boysko has worked hard to prepare a bill that fairly applies the Christian principles of Redemption and Second Chances. Please allow those included in the bill the opportunity to EARN, through educational and vocational improvement, the opportunity to return to their families and lives. This will not be given to them, they must EARN it. Please Vote YES for SB5034 with NO further EXCLUSIONS. Thank you. Debra and Gary Turner

End of Comments