Public Comments for 09/25/2020 Appropriations
My son is an elementary school student, in Goochland Virginia. Over the course of the 2020-2021 school year we have been blessed to have dedicated professionals committed to making virtual learning a comprehensive experience. During the Covid-19 global pandemic our family has been extremely cautious because we are high risk. This small bit of normalcy, in the form of a comprehensive virtual education, helps to provide my son with structure. This structure and consistency helps him engage in his education, learn and grow. To change things now would really affect him, and other students who live in high risk homes. Please keep funding available for our schools.
As you take up the 2021-2022 Biennium Budget, please remember that investments in our natural resources and transportation will not only further Virginia’s long-standing policy goals -- these investments will help relieve the economic and health-related impacts of our prolonged battle with this pandemic. To that end, we urge you to maintain the following in HB5005: Item 373 - Provides $15 million for rehabilitation of state-owned dams, $3.84 million in supplemental Water Quality Improvement Funding (WQIF) for agricultural best management practices in 2021, and the statutorily required WQIF deposit in 2022. Item 374 - Restores $5.5 million each year for the Virginia Land Conservation Fund for a total of $10 million per year, the amount approved by the General Assembly in March. Item C-70 - Provides $50 million for Nutrient Removal Grants to wastewater treatment facilities, $50 million for Stormwater Local Assistance Funding, and $25 million to address Alexandria’s Combined Sewer System. Item 372 - Study and development of a plan to require landfill operators to pay a solid waste disposal fee for each ton of solid waste received at a landfill. Other states use such fees as a dedicated funding source for natural resources, and it is time for Virginia to consider doing the same. We further urge you to include Delegate Jones' amendment (Item 380#1h) $200,000 for the establishment of a director of environmental justice at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
The current pandemic has made it clear that essential to our needs are clean air, clean water, equitable access to the outdoors, and improved access to transportation alternatives. As a citizen of Virginia working in the Petersburg Tri-cities and a member of the conservation community, funding to protect our natural resources remains a priority for me. To that end, please vote to maintain the following in the budget presented to you by Governor Northam on August 18th. • Item 125 - Provides for the establishment of the Office of Offshore Wind at the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy. • Item 373 - Provides $15 million for rehabilitation of state-owned dams, $3.84 million in supplemental Water Quality Improvement Funding (WQIF) for agricultural best management practices in 2021, and the statutorily required WQIF deposit in 2022. • Item 374 - Restores $5.5 million each year for the Virginia Land Conservation Fund for a total of $10 million per year, the amount approved by the General Assembly in March. • Item 430 - Provides funding flexibility to the Commonwealth Transportation Board that will help avoid project delays and cuts to transit and passenger rail service. • Item 443 - Allows the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to continue to advance the Virginia Rail Initiative while the newly-authorized Virginia Passenger Rail Authority is established. • Item 444 - Allows the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to keep its budget at current levels. • Item C-70 - Provides $50 million for Nutrient Removal Grants to wastewater treatment facilities, $50 million for Stormwater Local Assistance Funding, and $25 million to address Alexandria’s Combined Sewer System. • Item C-54 - Provides $10 million for oyster reef restoration. I also urge you to include $200,000 for the establishment of a director of environmental justice at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Thank you.
This is an important bill that protects the constitutional rights of a person accused of a crime. A person should not be afraid to exercise his or her constitutional right to a jury trial because of the major differences in a sentence he or she may face from a jury sentencing versus a judge sentencing. There is currently a trial penalty for exercising one’s right to a jury trial. This bill will ensure fairness and stop the current encroachment of accused persons rights. Please vote yes for SB5007.
It is time to eliminate the jury penalty. The only logical basis for having the rules the way we currently do is to chill defendants rights to a trial by jury. Prosecutors may claim that they wish to protect speedy trial rights, but that is a laughable excuse to keep the status quo. Virginians deserve to have all of their rights protected including the right to a trial by jury without fear of being penalized by the current system. Allowing Judges to sentence may increase the number of jury trials, but that is price that should be paid. Too long have defendants been forced to choose the safe option (bench trials) instead of having a jury decide their guilt or innocence.
Thank you for the opportunity to address my deep concerns over SB5007. I am worried about the extreme financial stress that the elimination of jury sentencing will bring to our communities. Individuals will request a jury trial and not seek to resolve charges as they can take a chance with a sentencing judge at worse case. We are not equipped to try so many jury cases with the number of court appointed defense counsel, Commonwealth’s attorneys, court personnel or court rooms. Beyond the fiscal impact, a vote for SB5007 is a vote against trusting our citizens to choose how criminal justice is admixtures in their community. Please consider allowing juries to see sentencing guidelines or eliminating minimum mandatories that seem unfair to correct any concerns. We are all public servants serving our communities. I hope you will trust your citizens with the sacred task of deciding what crime means to our families. Judges still have the final say. I have been an elected Commonwealth’s Attorney for over twenty one years. I may not have liked every jury decision, but I have respected every jury decision as the jury is after all the people I serve and it is their community. Thank you for your consideration. Marsha Garst
The offense related to possession of child pornography is addressed in the proposed bill, including this language: § 18.2-374.1:1. Possession, reproduction, distribution, solicitation, and facilitation of child pornography; penalty. A. Any person who knowingly possesses child pornography is guilty of a Class 6 felony. B. Any person who commits a second or subsequent violation of subsection A is guilty of a Class 5 felony. The outcome is of personal, heartfelt interest, as my son, who was a teenage college freshman at the time of his arrest in April 2018, admitted to viewing pornography and straying into under-18 images. He did not attempt to have, nor did he have, any contact with anyone underage, and did not participate in reproduction, distribution, solicitation, or facilitation of any illegal images. He was charged with one count under section A and nine counts under section B for a total of 10 images. He has served one year of his 5-year sentence and ultimately appears headed toward serving 85% of that penalty plus enduring many years on the Sex Offender Registry. I plead with the legislature to recognize that a one-size-fits-all punishment is disproportionate to the offense in such a case, where the offender is young, immature, and curious, compared to an older adult who might have deviant, predatory motives and who could be at risk of recidivism. If leniency could be granted for a youthful offender, and earned sentence credits could accrue at a rate higher than 4.5 days per 30, it would be not only merciful but present the opportunity for someone in the prime of their life to complete college amongst peers and go on to be a productive member of society and a normal citizen instead of being hindered by the weight of prolonged incarceration and exposure to the elements of prison life, hiding in shame upon release. Please ratify a bill exempting sections A and B from a limitation to 4.5 days per 30. Please allow up to 15 days per 30 for persons like my son who is young, devoutly religious, and full of potential to grow intellectually and spiritually and who would benefit society by being released much earlier than currently dictated. Thank you sincerely and humbly for your consideration.
Friday, September 25, 2020 Dear Senate Finance: The right to a jury trial is the fundamental right of every person accused in our criminal justice system, and it is an essential safeguard of innocence and freedom. Virginias are afraid to exercise this right. They are penalized for requesting a jury trial because if convicted, a jury will be required to impose incarceration, often within a mandatory range of years per charge, without the power to suspend any portion of that sentence. For example, in a case of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance a jury can ONLY impose a period of incarceration from 5-40 years. A judge can impose any period of incarceration within that range or suspend the active incarceration and impose probation. This is where the injustice lies. In Virginia, if you exercise your right to a jury you face a higher penalty range. The current law heavily affects oppresses people of color in discriminatory ways and doesn't promote equitable and justice. This cannot be lost on this legislative Body. VOICE believes the oppressive penalty for exercising one's Constitutional right should not be allowed. VOICE believes legislation that is passed should dismantle racial discrimination and inequity, not bolster it. Most offensive is the complaint that Virginia cannot afford to provide the jury trials that its citizens want. So Virginia can afford to charge and incarcerate, but cannot afford to provide a (non sentencing) jury along the way? It is also the cry in 1963 in opposition to Gideon v, Wainwright and the idea of states having to provide lawyers to the poor. The sky didn’t fall then, as was predicted, and it will not fall now. Instead, the wrongfully and unjustly accused will truly have the day in court our system has always intended. Sincerely yours, Dr. Keith Savage, Senior Servant VOICE Co-Chair
Friday, September 25, 2020 Dear House of Delegates - Appropriations Committee: I am Rev. Dr. Keith Savage, Senior Servant of First Baptist Church, Manassas, and Co-Chair of Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (aka VOICE). I implore this august Body to act with all deliberate and compassionate will power to put real protections and reasonable repayment measures in place to avoid unprecedented evictions and housing insecurity in the midst of an unprecedented and ongoing COVID crisis in our Commonwealth. This cannot be lost on this legislative Body. VOICE believes the health pandemic should not ruin people’s credit and make getting a new home, buying a car, or obtaining a school loan for college nearly impossible. VOICE believes legislation that is passed should dismantle racial discrimination and inequity, not bolster it. That is why VOICE believes the two items below need to be added to the eviction moratorium language in the budget bill for all tenants, not just for the small number that may enter into a payment plan. Such actions will mitigate the long-term consequences of eviction on renters and housing markets at a time of high unemployment. A. No credit reporting by landlords for non-payment during the pandemic to the credit bureau. Currently, the language in the budget states that this only applies if certain conditions are met-- that is the person has entered a payment plan and is current on that plan. Without an equitable language change, this could impact tenants’ ability to purchase a home, buy a car, get a loan, etc., things that can hinder a family's or individual person’s opportunity for housing, economic, and educational stability for decades. B. Prohibit landlords from screening prospective tenants for the history of eviction that occurred during the pandemic for non-payment reasons. Note: This is done via courts or companies that compile the information. Sincerely yours, Dr. Keith Savage, Senior Servant VOICE Co-Chair
PLEASE PASS SB5007 to reform Virginia's jury sentencing to be in line with 44 other states, instead of being the VERY WORST system in the ENTIRE country! Virginia is THE ONLY state in the country where juries are both charged with sentencing convicts, and are not even given ANY access to sentencing guidelines. In 44 other states, juries convict but do not sentence most convicts. In the rest, juries at least have access to the same guidelines as judges. Virginia does neither, making us the worst. This article from a lawyer who has served as both defense counsel and prosecutor describes the problem — it takes away the accused's constitutional right to a jury trial, under the very real threat of that jury, quite possibly even unintentionally, exacting a much harsher penalty than normal, but that's not all: http://crimlaw.blogspot.com/2004/08/no-jury-trials.html Not only does this effectively take away the right to trial by jury, it takes away the very basic human right for many accused to even have ANY TRIAL AT ALL. They are forced to accept the prosecutor's plea bargain, or else face the *prosecutor* demanding a jury trial by right, which has then led to enormously terrible outcomes on average, even in false conviction cases. If this bill passes, either side can request a jury trial WITHOUT that massive sentencing disparity coming into play. Virginia's unconstitutional jury sentencing system which denies the accused of a felony the right to ANY fair trial at all MUST CHANGE. PLEASE DO NOT OBSTRUCT THIS BILL. Please read this carefully researched academic report on how bad Virginia's jury sentencing system is. IT IS TIME FOR CHANGE: http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1726&context=wmborj I handed this report I link above out to every member of the criminal justice subcommittee last spring, a majority of whom have now approved the bill before you. YOU SHOULD DO THE SAME. If you are in ANY doubt at all how bad the status quo is, READ THE REPORT. PLEASE PASS SB5030 as well. We NEED reform of policing in Virginia, especially an end to no-knock raids and dangerous restraint techniques, and an end to use of deadly force where it is absolutely not required. Black lives and ALL lives are begging for police brutality to stop.
The policy of SB 5007 is good and noble: ensuring that defendants get their fair day in court. I share that goal: after all, it is my sworn duty to ensure that justice, truth, and equity prevail. Because of that deep commitment, I cannot support SB 5007 in its current form, and I ask that it be passed by to allow for a better solution to emerge. This proposed legislation will only exacerbate long-standing fiscal problems with our criminal justice system. Prosecutors are often admonished to use alternatives to incarceration (programs from the DOC, probation, mental health and substance abuse programs). My office actively uses programs when they are available, but, quite frankly, they often are not meaningfully available. Virginia has less prosecutors than other states, we greatly underpay both court-appointed attorneys and public defenders, we don’t have enough judges, clerks, or bailiffs, and we consistently underfund DOC programs including Probation and Parole offices. True criminal justice reform must include increased funding for indigent defense and substance abuse/mental health treatment at a minimum regardless of SB5007. I know others will comment on this bill’s impact on victims of crime as well as the impact on other parts of the criminal justice system, so I will focus on the impact of this bill on citizen jurors and society. Jurors are more than twelve random people brought together; they are a cross-section of the community. It is the sense of community a jury provides which is at risk. As a society, it is important for the community to be engaged in the process of government. After all, the only power an elected official has is because it was granted by the citizens. That is sacred, and we should ensure citizens are included in the outcomes of trials. Madison County’s retired Judge Daniel R. Bouton gave a speech at the conclusion of each jury trial: “When citizens make decisions about what should happen in connection with other citizens, that is democracy, that is self-government, and there are very few other purer forms of the way in which that type of government can be expressed. . . . The right to vote and jury duty and jury service are perhaps the two most important elements of our democratic form of government.” In our system of checks and balances, the citizen’s jury is the ultimate check on the power of both the legislative and executive branches. Most of prosecutors seem to agree that some change is necessary, so let us join together and develop a bill assuring fairness to all persons involved in a jury trial. There are other alternatives that will ensure a defendant’s right to jury trial: submission of guidelines to the jury, allowing juries to suspend portions of sentences, removing the bottom end of punishment ranges to allow a jury to start with no active time, or adding an “acceptance of responsibility” offset to sentencing guidelines. Let’s not disenfranchise jurors in the name of progress. Let’s continue to show citizens that we value their contributions to our system and create a better solution. Sincerely, Clarissa T. Berry Commonwealth’s Attorney Madison County
My name is Adiba Hafiz. I live with my 19 and 20 year old brothers and my mother in a 2 bedroom apartment in Arlington VA. I am a full time student, a junior at George Mason University studying Pre-Law. I'm dedicated to my college education and and am proud to be on the dean's list Before the pandemic all of us were working in order to cover the rent and our other bills. Working 30 hours a week while being a full time student was tricky but totally worth it. I have goals I'm moving towards. When covid-19 struck, 3 of our 4 family members lost their jobs in the service industry. Finding new jobs is proving challenging. The stress in the family around finances is running high. We are determined to do all that we can to rebuild our savings, get our college education, and cover our expenses. Please act to help people like us through an eviction moratorium and rental relief. I urge you to use language in your bills that will ensure that our credit rating will not be negatively impacted.
This bill would go a long way in creating fairness in the Virginia Criminal Justice system. It will not cost more money because right now jury trials are a tool of prosecutors that want to force plea deals. If this bill passes it would weaken the hand of lazy prosecutors and make it so that they have to make more equitable plea offers that would also reduce the prison population and the costs of mass incarceration in our state. Recent arguments that virginia would have to choose between speedy trial and jury rights is equally flawed. Prosecutors in Virgina set the speed of trials and more often calls for juries. This prevents defendants from having their constitutional rights weaponized against them by the incarceration industrial complex.
FAMM is a national expert on medical and geriatric release programs. In 2018, 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 reduces prison costs and 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. In our review of best practices, the best systems assign staff to assist elderly and terminally ill prisoners with pre- and post-release planning. We encourage Virginia to consider developing regulations addressing supportive release planning.
As the Grandparent of an elementary school student I am urging you not to withhold funding for our schools based on physical attendance. Teachers are still going into the schools doing their best to provide quality education under difficult circumstances, students still need iPads or Chrome tablets. Some students are going into the schools for in person learning and the janitorial staff still has to work. Those students enrolled from home are still participating in school curricula and should be considered as full time enrolled students.
I great deal of discussion is taking place about the need to ensure that our criminal justice system reflects and acknowledges the real world perspectives of ALL citizens in the community. A jury trial is one of the most important and most visible opportunities for those citizens to have input and oversight into the "justice" part of the criminal justice system. Real people, sharing their own real life experiences and perspectives, should continue to have a voice in what sort of punishment is really appropriate. We should NOT take away one of the only opportunities that the citizens have to directly participate and to reflect the “conscience of the community”.
On behalf of Appalachian Voices, I would like to express support for the amendment to the budget submitted by Del. Jay Jones (item 4-14, #3h). This amendment directs the SCC to conduct an emergency review of Dominion Energy's earnings and to order customer refunds for earnings above 70 basis points beyond the utility’s authorized rate of return from 2017 to 2019. Appalachian Voices does not support any budget amendment concerning utility bill debt that would, at any time, allow any utility to profit from the administration of a debt repayment program related to the Covid crisis. To permit such profit-making to arise from the economic and health crises would be unconscionable. Ultimately, when Dominion earns more than the legally permissible 70 basis points above its authorized rate of return, as reflected in the State Corporation Commission's most recent Status Report, that money should be credited to the customers from whom it was taken. Del. Jones' amendment to the budget facilitates such a reasonable and just reimbursement to customers, and would help lift struggling Virginians out from the burden of Covid-related utility bill debt.
SB 5007 has its merits and its drawbacks, but the Commonwealth of Virginia cannot afford it at present. If enacted, it will generate a need for significantly more funding for components of the criminal justice system (courtrooms, judges, clerks, bailiffs, public defenders, prosecutors, support staff, etc.). I refer the Committee to the Fiscal Impact Statement. Without additional funding, the system will cease to function as our citizens expect. SB 5007 would force Commonwealth's Attorneys to triage justice if the bill is enacted without the additional resources needed to meet the increase in demands for jury trials. Simple logic clearly dictates that the demands for juries will increase substantially. As a former defense attorney who represented indigent clients, I submit that it would border on malpractice not to advise the client to demand a jury in nearly every case - just as an opening bid. That tactic, recommended by the competent defense bar en masse and used by their clients en masse, will force prosecutors to choose between which "strong" felony cases to prepare and try, which to "plead out" on absurdly lenient terms, and which to drop - the triage of justice. For example, consider the indigent defendant who is charged with possession of drugs and whose sentencing guidelines recommend probation or a short time in jail (and who may have even confessed). The law would give that defendant every incentive to demand a jury if for no other purpose than to gain leverage in plea bargaining. That defendant may even win the “triage of justice” lottery by forcing the prosecutor to decide that the charge must be dropped due to the lack of public resources. (By the way, in my experience, there are many more indigent drug possessors than there are those who are charged as "first-time" drug dealers, which defendants are the example repeatedly cited by proponents of this legislation. An affordable fix for the "first-time" dealer scenario would be to amend the penalty range so that it conforms with the sentencing guidelines. Many similar scenarios could be cited by both proponents and opponents of this bill. That fact is another reason that the bill is unsuitable, no matter how well intended.) The intent of the legislation to address inequities in the criminal justice system is laudable, but the unintended consequences of the legislation in its current form will devastate that system in the Commonwealth and undermine our society as a whole. There are better and affordable ways to make the criminal justice system fairer for all, to preserve and improve our society, and to serve justice. Respectfully, Jeffrey D. Gaines Commonwealth's Attorney City of Staunton
On behalf of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance and the members of the Northern Virginia Transportation Business Coalition, I am writing to reaffirm our support for the Governor's proposed amendments to Item 430, P1-5. Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter.
I am opposed to SB 5007, for the many arguments that have been made. 1. The allegation of wide spread practice of Commonwealth Attorney's requesting jury trials in order to force guilty pleas is farcical. Many judges have the attitude that if you ask for a jury trial, you are getting a jury trial. It does not make practical sense to use it as a bluff. I am a one prosecutor office, and I do not have the luxury of bluffing. My belief is that juries remind prosecutors, judges, and attorney's of what they believe should occur in regard to certain offenses. I particularly learned that in a case of an inmate damaging a sprinkler system, the jury gave a lot less than the guidelines. 2. The reality is that I typically choose jury trials only for the most serious of offenses, to give citizens the options to tell the defendants what they think of their acts in those cases, such as sexual abuse and homicides. Juries pay attention to giving justice to victims. It is disturbing that the citizens voice is being taken away. The legislature likely does not see it this way, but you are telling the public that citizens are not to be trusted, that jurors are too harsh, and that although they can hear a case and decide guilt or innocence, only judges know best as to punishment. The public does not elect judges, thus they will no longer have any control of sentencing in their communities. It is the antithesis of the current movement of placing more criminal justice decisions before the public. 3. I often compare jury trials, that is the days and nights of preparation and trial itself, to being the marathons of the legal system. They are excruciating. We can only do so many, and when we have that race, we can’t do others at the same time, or at least do it well. We do not run these races alone. Other participants are judges, clerks, law enforcement, bailiffs, defense attorney’s, etc. It is obvious that with nothing to loose, defense attorneys will be asking for jury trials. It is unmistakable. The increase in caseload will impact everyone, even civil jury trials that take a backseat to criminal cases. This is not feasible without a massive increase in funding. Without it, you are purposefully forcing prosecutors to forsake outcomes that are best for the community in favor of judicial economy and giving in I am a one prosecutor office with a Circuit Court judge that is here twice a month. I will not be able to prosecute misdemeanors if this occurs. I already work on many nights and weekends. We can't do 10 or so jury trials a month. 4. Also disturbing is that it is the “nuclear option” that has been chosen rather than other available alternatives. Commonwealth Attorney's are willing to see the viability of having jurors have sentencing guidelines, suspend sentences, and other reform options that have been discussed. Rather than accept a negotiated settlement with the assistance of those who deal with these issues (CA's) the nuclear button is being pushed that will result in catastrophic damage to the entire criminal justice system., with massively increased workloads for all court participants without even contemplating increasing resources. Making the communities safer is undoubtedly not an outcome of this legislation, and it is a senseless act when one realizes that other options are available. You will get a much better outcome for justice and safety if the system is reformed rather than going nuclear.
Jury sentencing is the community's voice in the justice system. Eliminating jury sentencing is antithetical to the goal of a transparent and fair justice system. Why should a jury that represents the community be prevented from recommending a sentence? Why should a rape victim not have the opportunity to address a jury as to the impact of the crime? A jury represents the conscience of the community. The power should rest with them, not appointed judges, prosecutors or defense attorneys to decide what punishment is appropriate. Remember that judges already have to power to reduce a jury sentence IF the judge believes the jury was unreasonably punitive. This bill will make the justice system less fair, it will harm victims and it will result in the further erosion of public confidence in societal institutions. The bill will also allow criminal defendants to cynically game the system by requesting jury trials without any concern that they will be sentenced by a jury of their peers. This morning I had to explain to a woman whose husband of 27 years was killed by a drunk driver that a jury may not be allowed to hear her testimony about the impact of the crime on her and her three children. That is not justice. Please vote against this bill.
Mr. Chairman, these comments are provided on behalf of the following natural gas local distribution companies: Virginia Natural Gas, Washington Gas, Roanoke Gas and Columbia Gas. Working with our customers during these unprecedented times has and continues to be a priority. We thank Senator McClellan for working with stakeholders and are supportive of SB 5118 as it strikes a balance by providing payment plan certainty for customers and regulatory certainty for utilities through timely recovery of bad debt obligations, reasonable late payment fees suspended, and prudently incurred implementation costs resulting from a repayment plan, including through a rate adjustment clause or through base rates. We are supportive of similar cost recovery language in a budget amendment as well as language that allows for a local distribution company to petition the State Corporation Commission for relief from the disconnection moratorium if arrearages exceed one percent of annual operating revenues. We thank the Committee for their consideration.
The right to a jury trial is the fundamental right of every person accused in our criminal justice system, and it is an essential safeguard of innocence and freedom. Virginia's are afraid to exercise this right. They are penalized for requesting a jury trial because if convicted, a jury will be required to impose incarceration, often within a mandatory range of years per charge, without the power to suspend any portion of that sentence. For example, in a case of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance a jury can ONLY impose a period of incarceration from 5-40 years. A judge can impose any period of incarceration within that range or suspend the active incarceration and impose probation. This is where the injustice lies. In Virginia, if you exercise your right to a jury you face a higher penalty range. Most offensive is the complaint that Virginia cannot afford to provide the jury trials that its citizens want. So Virginia can afford to charge and incarcerate, but cannot afford to provide a (non sentencing) jury along the way? It is also the cry in 1963 in opposition to Gideon v, Wainwright and the idea of states having to provide lawyers to the poor. The sky didn’t fall then, as was predicted, and it won’t fall now. Instead, the wrongfully and unjustly accused will truly have the day in court our system has always intended. This bill is opposed by the powerful. The prosecutors are better staffed and funded in every court than the defense yet we stand with fairness and basic constitutional rights. The prosecutors oppose this because it will blunt their ability to coerce guilty pleas.
I write to support SB507. I am a defense attorney with the Bedford Public Defender's Office. Here in Bedford, the Commonwealth Attorney's Office requests a jury trial for every single felony case. It is the right of the Commonwealth to do so, but the reason for doing it is to force defendants into taking plea agreements because the alternative (being sentenced by a jury with no possibility of a suspended sentence) is too high a risk. The Commonwealth's justification is for efficiency purposes, and that is what the Commonwealth Attorneys Association maintains as the basis for keeping the system as it stands. But the reality is that my clients are penalized for choosing a jury trial because if they are convicted, a jury will be required to impose incarceration, often a mandatory number of years per charge, without the power to suspend any portion of that sentence. And when a jury imposes that kind of sentence, it is a very rare judge who will alter what the jury has imposed. It just doesn’t happen. In addition, juries are required to impose sentences without the information, sentencing alternatives, and sentencing powers reserved for judges. The right to a jury trial is the fundamental right of every person accused in our criminal justice system, and it is an essential safeguard of innocence and freedom. The reality in Virginia, however, is that our citizens are afraid to exercise this right. The Commonwealth’s Attorneys Association asserts that nothing about the Virginia way discourages jury trials, but insists that if this bill is enacted, jury trials will increase. If this representation is correct, it concedes that Virginians are routinely and systematically being denied the right to a jury, a right they would exercise if not forced to risk a draconian sentence. Most offensive is the complaint that Virginia cannot afford to provide the jury trials that its citizens want. So Virginia can afford to charge and incarcerate, but cannot afford to provide a (nonsentencing) jury along the way. That is a shameless argument. It is also the cry in 1963 in opposition to Gideon v, Wainwright and the idea of states having to provide lawyers to the poor. The sky didn’t fall then, as was predicted, and it won’t fall now. Instead, the wrongfully and unjustly accused will truly have the day in court our system has always intended. In a time where the injustices within our justice system are being highlighted, choose to be on the right side of this injustice. Support SB5007.
I have practiced criminal defense in the Commonwealth for 45 years. I now teach at W and L. I can tell you from much first-hand experience that it is not unusual for a defendant to enter a guilty plea to avoid the risk that a jury will both find him/her guilty and impose a harsh sentence. This has the effect of forcing guilty pleas from the innocent. In years past, I know that it was a policy of some prosecutors' offices to demand a jury in every felony drug case. Again, the purpose was to force pleas. It is exceptionally rare for a judge to lower a jury sentence even though the judge has the power to do so. This is often justified by saying that "the community has spoken." But the community does not have the depth of knowledge necessary to devise a proper sentence. Jurors are given precious little information about a defendant's past - the legal rules often bar such evidence from a jury, but not from a judge. The current system just perpetuates longer, unjust sentences and demeans the justice system.
I have several concerns with the proposed bill, especially given the great impact I suspect it will have on the criminal justice and court system if passed as introduced. If the bill is passed, I expect all areas of Virginia, including Nottoway County, will see a tremendous increase in the number of jury trials and demands for jury trials. It is generally known and accepted in criminal law that juries are likely to sentence a defendant to more time than a judge would, especially considering the fact that judges have sentencing guidelines whereas juries do not. As it stands now, defendants often choose to plead guilty or waive their right to a jury trial in order to avoid being sentenced by a jury. However, given the fact that juries are more likely than judges to dismiss cases for reasons that are not within the letter of the law, I suspect if jury sentencing is removed from the law, significantly more defendants will demand jury trials. As a general concept I personally have no issue with removing jury sentencing as many other states and the federal system have done just that. My concerns arise from the wording and implementation of this bill. Without additional judges, clerks, courtrooms, bailiffs, prosecutors, and funding for court appointed attorneys, the system cannot handle a significant increase in jury trials, and there will be unforeseen and unintended consequences. I have had to request additional court time from the civil docket several times recently because we do not have enough allotted time to schedule all of our cases at present. If there are no additional judges we will not be able to schedule very many jury trials per month. This will likely result in speedy trial issues and my office having to decide which are the most important cases to proceed on. Having to drop a case because there is not enough court time to prosecute is simply not justice, and telling a victim their case is not as important as another case due solely to time constraints is not right. Jury trials take longer to try and more work to prepare for on the part of both the prosecution and the defense. Most defendants in Nottoway County have court appointed defense attorneys. If those attorneys are unable to request waivers to the fee cap when they put in 20+ hours of work on a case, they may stop or limit the court appointed work they accept – leading to a shortage of court appointed defense attorneys. Lastly, an increase in jury trials will also impact our Sheriff’s Office. Being a small jurisdiction, if we have a district court in session at the same time as a jury trial, the Sheriff’s Office may be stretched thin in their efforts to provide coverage for emergency calls while also providing courtroom security for two courts, especially if deputies are required witnesses in a case. The Sheriff’s Office does a great job working with the courts and my office on the rare occasions where this has happened, but if it becomes a regular occurrence I am not sure the Sheriff’s Office will have a sufficient number of deputies to accomplish everything they are called to do. Without a study of the anticipated impacts, as well as additional funding for Courts, Clerk’s Offices, Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Offices, Sheriff’s Departments, and court appointed attorneys, I fear this bill will drastically and negatively impact justice in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and so I ask you to please oppose this legislation.
I would like to voice my opposition to SB 5007 which eliminates Jury Sentencing unless requested by the defendant. Although there are valid reasons to eliminate jury sentencing, this bill would implement an entirely new process without addressing the full impact of such a drastic measure. This bill will result in an increase in the number of jury trials. I realize that the patron of this bill and others may disagree as to the bill’s potential impact on the number of jury trials. However, it is only logical that there will be an increase. A jury’s verdict must be unanimous. Therefore, a defendant has a greater chance of not being convicted as a result of a jury trial. There can be no disagreement that it is easier for the prosecution to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to a single judge versus twelve jurors. In fact, proponents of this bill argue that many defendants would prefer to exercise their constitutional right to a jury trial but choose not to do so due to the disparity in sentencing. This increase in the number of jury trials will overburden the resources of judges, public defenders, court-appointed attorneys, prosecutors, sheriff’s deputies, and all of the other courthouse personnel that are required to accommodate the increased number of jury trials. Furthermore, many jurisdictions do not have the physical courtrooms to allow for this type of increase to the number of jury trials. Implementation of a fundamental change to the criminal justice system without adequately addressing and providing for the additional resources needed for such a change is irresponsible and threatens the safety of the community. I understand and appreciate the desire to change the procedure regarding jury sentencing. A defendant is entitled to a fair sentence regardless of the method of trial. However there is no need to eliminate jury sentencing to accomplish this goal. Alternatively, changes could be made to allow juries to suspend sentences and/or impose programs. Legislation could be enacted to allow sentencing guidelines to be provided to jurors during sentencing. Changes could be made to the penalties of certain crimes. For example, simple possession of a schedule I or II substance, like cocaine, has a penalty of 1 to 10 years and grand larceny has a penalty of 1 to 20 years. The penalty range is the same whether it is the defendant’s first offense or the defendant’s tenth offense. Providing jurors with the same tools and sentencing alternatives that are available to a judge will allow the defendant to seek leniency while allowing jurors to still have the opportunity to have a voice in what sort of punishment is really appropriate in their community. Jury sentencing is one of the only opportunities that the citizens have to directly participate in the criminal justice system and to reflect the “conscience of the community.” Meaningful changes can be made to the criminal justice system that would address the issues that SB 5007 purports to correct without such a substantial increase in criminal justice resources. For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to vote against SB 5007. Georgette Phillips, Commonwealth's Attorney for Isle of Wight County
Virginia Conservation Network (VCN) Testimony regarding the 2021-22 Biennium Budget We urge you to maintain the following in the budget presented to you by Governor Northam on August 18th: •Item 125-Provides for the establishment of the Office of Offshore Wind at the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy. •Item 373-Provides $15 million for rehabilitation of state-owned dams, $3.84 million in supplemental Water Quality Improvement Funding for agricultural best management practices in 2021, and the statutorily required WQIF deposit in 2022. •Item 374-Restores $5.5 million each year for the Virginia Land Conservation Fund for a total of $10 million per year, the amount approved by the General Assembly in March. •Item 430-Provides funding flexibility to the Commonwealth Transportation Board that will help avoid project delays and cuts to transit and passenger rail service. •Item 443-Allows the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to continue to advance the Virginia Rail Initiative while the newly-authorized Virginia Passenger Rail Authority is established. •Item 444-Allows the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to keep its budget at current levels. •Item C-70-Provides $50 million for Nutrient Removal Grants to wastewater treatment facilities, $50 million for Stormwater Local Assistance Funding, and $25 million to address Alexandria’s Combined Sewer System. •Item C-54-Provides $10 million for oyster reef restoration. We further urge you to support the following language amendments to the budget bill that address the Commonwealth's economic burdens: •Item 372-Study and development of a plan to require landfill operators to pay a solid waste disposal fee for each ton of solid waste received at a landfill. Other states use such fees as a dedicated funding source for natural resources, and it is time for Virginia to consider doing the same. •Item 4-14-Prohibiting utility providers from disconnecting service for non-payment of bills or fees until at least 60 days after the declared state of emergency ends. We ask that you consider clarifying Item 4-14 to 1) further prevent utilities from adding late fees or carrying charges to the arrearage and 2) address the needs of customers with pre-pay billing plans. Virginia Conservation Network and the conservation community assert the following positions on budget amendments: OPPOSE 4-14 #2h SUPPORT 4-14 #3h SUPPORT 4-14 #4h SUPPORT 374 #1h SUPPORT 482.20 #17h Funding to protect our natural resources remains a priority for the conservation community. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that among the essential needs for Virginians are clean air, clean water, equitable access to the outdoors, and access to transportation alternatives. Investments in our natural resources and transportation will not only further Virginia’s long-standing policy goals – these investments will help relieve the economic and health-related impacts of our prolonged battle with this pandemic. Read more at vcnva.org/specialsession and at vcnva.org/bill-tracker/ On behalf of 150 VCN partner organizations across the Commonwealth, thank you for this opportunity.
Dear Delegate Torian; I am writing in support of SB5007 and to encourage the bill’s passage. I am the Chief Public Defender for the City of Richmond. I joined this office in 1992, before the sentencing reforms of 1996, which drastically reduced the number of jury trials being held in the City and throughout the Commonwealth. I am not aware of any cost savings to the Courts, Public Defender Offices or to the Commonwealth’s Attorneys as a result of the reduction in jury trials post 1996. Today, opponents of this bill argue that its passage would increase the costs of the criminal justice system, as if Constitutionally guaranteed jury trials are to be stingily doled out to a select few. The jury trial is the only right mentioned in both the unamended original Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Indeed, the Constitution devotes more words to the subject of jury trials than to any other right. The sovereign government cannot restrict this right to a trial by one’s peers because it costs too much. How exactly do they propose to measure the worth of the Constitution?? Pre-1996, multiple jury trials were held in the city each day. Occasionally, a judge would try two low level juries on the same day. Sentencing changes implemented in 1996 brought about a sharp decline in the number of jury trials, most notably through the use of sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences, which transferred power to prosecutors and discouraged defendants from going to trial, where, if convicted they might face harsher sentences. Prosecutors wield their discretionary power to decide which charges to bring against a defendant, knowing that a charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence serves as a deterrent to a jury trial. Attorneys call this the “jury penalty”, the potential to receive a much harsher sentence following a jury trial than when sentenced by a judge. SB5007 will force the prosecutors to evaluate a case and extend plea offers, in accordance with the sentencing guidelines, thus eliminating the “jury penalty”, rather than being able to dictate sentences based upon the mandatory minimum sentences that only apply to juries. Trials put our system of justice on display for all to see. In any courthouse in the Commonwealth, anyone can enter a courtroom and watch the strength of our trial system. The public airing of facts, literally in open court, creates accountability for both defendants and the government. Thomas Jefferson once said that he considered “trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” Sincerely, Tracy Paner
Chairman Torian and Members of the House Appropriations Committee, I write to you to express my opposition to SB5007. The main thrust of this bill is to eliminate jury sentencing unless the criminal defendant requests it. I oppose this bill as its enactment will cause an extreme shift in Virginia’s criminal procedure without thoughtful consideration and study of the fiscal and workload impact this bill will place on many agencies and on criminal defendants. Passage of SB5007 will result in a significant increase in the number of criminal cases set for trial by jury. Jury trials require vastly more time to prepare and try than do bench trials or other hearings. All involved parties want a full and fair hearing. This requires the ability to adequately prepare a case for trial by jury, time on the court’s docket for the hearing, and physical space to hold the trial. There are only so many hours in the day to complete our work. The more demands we place onto the actors and facilities in the criminal justice system, the more we strain that ability to give each defendant and victim the full consideration, thoughtfulness, and preparation their cases deserve. The Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys (VACA) has determined that passage of this bill will cause an increase in the number of jury trials by a factor of 6 to 8 times as many jury trials as are currently held. With this degree of increased workload comes significant and increased costs in many forms and to many organizations, not just to prosecutors. Defense attorneys view passage of this bill as an ethical mandate that they must request jury trials. I heard them say it myself as have my fellow Commonwealth Attorneys. Jury trials require significantly more time to prepare and try. This will result in more costs to the defendant in the form of attorney fees and court costs if found guilty. Some jurisdictions do not have a public defender for the indigent which means court appointed counsel must be used. This will result in more attorneys needing to waive the fee cap. Circuit Court Clerks will need to summons more jurors resulting in more work for the clerks and for the sheriffs who must serve the process. We will need more money for juror pay. We currently have a backlog of bench and jury trials due to the pandemic. Jury trials take up an entire courtroom for a day or more. Passage of this bill will clog the system further without more judges and courtroom space for the additional trials. More prosecutors, public defenders, and staff will be needed to handle the increased workload. Just this week the Fairfax CA Office asked for 84 additional positions to handle its current caseload and recently got out of prosecuting certain misdemeanors due to the increased workload from the adoption of body worn cameras. I ask that if this General Assembly wants to change hundreds of years of criminal procedure in the Commonwealth that the matter be thoughtfully studied and properly funded before making such a drastic change. Thank you for your time and consideration, Bethany Harrison, Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Lynchburg
Greetings, My name is Rev. Kameron M. Wilds. I have the privilege of serving Rising Hope Mission Church, a United Methodist Congregation. We are located off of Richmond HWY (RT. 1) in Alexandria, VA. I am writing to share real life experiences of what is happening on the ground and why an eviction moratorium, as well as, sufficient funding supplied to keep persons in their homes is so important during this time. In a climate of rapid mistrust of those in power and unhinging social unrest, this is a season in which Virginia can lead the way offering a tangible expression of care and concern for our most vulnerable. For fifteen years, Rising Hope Mission Church has partnered with New Hope Housing to offer our space and resources to house persons experiencing homelessness from December through March. Seven days a week for four months out of the year, Rising Hope welcomes up to 24 individuals into our worship space to spread out, in what would be considered by most persons tight and uncomfortable spaces, so that they can survive the cold of winter and not risk the deadly effects of hypothermia. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council states that every year in America 700 homeless individuals die simply because they are left in the cold with nowhere to go. Currently, due to COVID-19, our space for the first time in fifteen years has been deemed not suitable for housing individuals experiencing homelessness because our facility cannot accommodate social distancing and other CDC recommendations known to stop the spread of COVID-19. We have individuals right now that sleep on our door steps each night and the best we can do is offer them a friendly smile and food when they wake up. As of this moment, New Hope Housing, has not been able to find a suitable replacement along the RT. 1 corridor that meets the needs of those experiencing homeless which includes access to transportation, adequate space for social distancing, proper ventilation, as well as meeting all necessary fire codes deemed appropriate. 700 persons die each year as a result of being left in the cold. This statistic is when we are able to operate under "normal conditions". 700 people die a year when we all pack in together and try to make it through the cold of the night. 700 people die when we are running at max capacity. Around this country, as was the case with COVID-19, we are going to see numbers rise for one reason, those in power failed to take quick, unilateral action. They failed to rise to the challenge of their day. You all have the power to change the tide for not only our homeless population, but for those who would become homeless through eviction. As an organization that works with those on the margins help us to continue to help you. Leave people in their homes. Through the budgetary negotiations around the evictions moratorium we ask that you follow the first two rules of our faith "do no harm" and "do all the good you can." In Service, Rev. Kameron M. Wilds
I pastor a large congregation in Herndon, VA, where the impact of Covid -19 has been devastating. I am also a landlord. Saturday, a member of our Spanish speaking congregation named Nelson was found dead in Herndon where he had been sleeping outdoors. He is the third member of this congregation to die not only because of Covid but because of the impact of being homeless due to unemployment brought on by Covid. He tried to get rent relief from the county, but his landlord had neither urgency nor accountability to cooperate. Our congregation has mobilized to feed our neighbors every single day. Thousands of people are hearing about people like Nelson and saying, "The only thing we can't give him is a home because of Covid." So, we come to you, asking that you act swiftly to minimize the avalanche of human and community costs.
I am writing to ask that SB5007 (Jury Sentencing) be held off until a full study can be done of the ramifications. I am a Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney in Montgomery County, and have been a prosecutor in Virginia for over 17 years. This past Spring the elimination of jury sentencing was raised, but it was held off until a full study could be done by the Crime Commission. By hastily pushing this bill through there are a number of factors that are being ignored: - victims rights - the dramatic increase in jury trials, which will increase costs for the entire judicial system - the workload of circuit court judges - statutory speedy trial will need to be increased Please do not rush into such a monumental change. Stand by what happened this past spring and make sure this issue is fully studied.
Good morning. I am the Commonwealth's Attorney from Mecklenburg County, and I wanted to make you all aware of my position on this bill. Essentially, this bill would remove the ability of the citizens of the Commonwealth to ever have any say in how they perceive crimes. This bill would also have a tremendous negative fiscal impact on the criminal justice system. Nevertheless, before I continue expressing my overall viewpoint, I would be remiss not to say that myself and many members of VACA are willing to come together with stakeholders to address the concerns that proponents of this bill are advancing. There are alternatives to the elimination of the jury sentencing, and I hope that this committee will give all stakeholders a chance to work together to find a solution all sides can agree with. I am reminded of the sage advice of the late legal titan Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” In addition to removing the voice of the public from the sentencing process, which is the single most powerful voice members of the criminal justice system can hear, there would be tremendous cost associated with a 68% jury trial rate, which is the average in states that employ this proposed system. A stark demonstration of the appropriations and fiscal support that would be needed to sustain this sea change can be seen by examining staffing standards across the country. In a county that has 1,000,000 people, prosecutor’s offices employed an average of 535 full time staff, including 187 assistant prosecutors, 31 supervisory attorneys, 16 victim advocates, 51 investigators, and 183 support staff. These figures were compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice in a National Census of State Court Prosecutors in December of 2011. These statistics illustrate that a similar amount of staff would need to be made available to accommodate Fairfax county alone. Fairfax has less than 50 prosecutors, and there are approximately 900 prosecutors in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In fact, the Washington Post just published an article about the staffing crisis in the Fairfax Commonwealth Attorney's Office under the current sentencing structure on September 22, 2020. This bill will exacerbate this problem immensely and extend it to every single locality in Virginia. An additional consequence that must be considered is that lawyers could move en masse to remove themselves from court appointed lists. Right now, court appointed attorneys are normally paid a statutory fee of $120.00 for a misdemeanor offense, and up to $1,250.00 for Class II felonies. These figures do not include discretionary fee cap waivers, or supplemental waivers. These numbers are based on a workload that does not include jury trials. Court appointed attorneys would be losing money by taking more cases to a jury, and therefore would have little incentive to take court appointed work. This scenario would be a terrible setback to indigent defendants. This bill would also negatively impact speedy trial rights, the processing of evidence by the Department of Forensic Science, pretrial detention costs to every locality, circuit court clerk's offices, public defenders, and victims of crimes. We are also in a pandemic, where only five localities can have a jury trial for safety reasons. Please vote no. Thank you so much.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am writing today to ask this Honorable Body to consider my opinion regarding SB 5007 (removal of jury sentencing). As as Republican Commonwealth's Attorney most people would assume that I am in complete opposition to SB 5007 without question. I can tell you that theory could not be more incorrect. After reading my thoughts, feel free to contact me and please know I am more than willing to assist in any way possible. 1. The value of jury sentencing can not be understated. As the public's ability to participate in the government process has decreased over the years, the ability of the local populous to participate in and determine the outcome of criminal trials/punishment in their communities is that much more important. a. Is the system flawed? Yes. As a criminal defense attorney, I witnessed numerous juries request the ability to impose other forms of punishment including counseling and community service. They also asked about the ability to suspend sentences. Due to the Code of Virginia and the Rules of the Supreme Court the answer was always "NO." The ability to allow the juries to consider those forms of punishment is in your hands. Juries wanted more flexibility and you can give it to them. b. Can the jury review Sentencing Guidelines? No. Should the jury be able to review the Guidelines? YES. One of the current fears of juries is their lack of opportunity to put criminal acts in perspective, which leads to outrageous sentences. That is a real concern, which as a criminal defense attorney I witnessed. I think the ability to review the sentencing guidelines would help to make juries aware of what the typical outcomes for criminal cases are. I will reserve my opinion on the inherent flaws of the (discriminatory) foundation of our sentencing guidelines for another day. c. Do judges reduce Jury Sentences? No. The opponents of jury sentences are correct that judges do not generally disturb jury sentences. I am aware of one former CA that actually publicly went after a judge for reducing a jury sentence. More concerning is that CA is now a judge, but that is another issue. The learned women and men of this legislature could surely craft legislation that would force judges to suspend that portion of any jury sentence that is more than, say 15% over the recommended guideline. I have faith that this legislature could do this. 2. The outcome if juries no longer sentence? If this legislature is determined to remove jury sentencing then please take the time to properly consider the cost of this decision. a. The empirical data I have seen shows a 8x multiplier applied to the number of jury trials. We will need 8x as many judges, prosecutors, public defenders, courtrooms, criminal clerks and sheriff's deputies to work courtrooms. The fees paid to court appointed counsel would have to increase. b. Statistical data aside, I am lucky that in my jurisdiction I enjoy a good relationship with my defense bar (public defenders included). All of them state that they will be forced to take more cases to jury trial and some have said it would be malpractice per se to NOT request a jury. c. If jury sentencing does go away then please put our guidelines in line with the federal guidelines which reduce the recommended sentence when a defendant accepts responsibility and pleads guilty. Thank your for your time and regardless of your decision, my office will continue to serve this great Commonwealth. Scott C. Hook
As Commonwealth’s Attorney for Grayson County, I wish to state my opposition to SB5007. While equitable sentencing is a concern for all parties involved in our criminal justice system, the potential unintended consequences of this bill could be disastrous for smaller localities like mine. If a defendant is given the ability to demand to be tried by a jury, but sentenced by the Court if convicted, the number of jury trials throughout the Commonwealth will increase exponentially. With that would come the need for increased funding for offices like mine to manage that increase. With that would also come the need for funding for more courtroom space, and more judges to manage that increase. This is not hyperbole. This increase in jury trials will happen. Simply ask any member of any defense bar throughout the Commonwealth. My County has one courtroom, with each court having one day each week. I also have only two assistants. This will cripple small offices, like mine. There are compromises to be had to ensure more equitable sentencing, such as providing the defendant's complete criminal record, along with the discretionary sentencing guidelines to the jury at sentencing. Please consider the negative implications this bill would have, and do not allow it to proceed out of your committee. Thank you.
I have lived in Virginia all my life. I have never been as disappointed in our system as I am today. There are very few of you who are willing to truly fight for all Virginians. You have made mistakes and so have the inmates but no one is willing to push through parole of any kind except for non-violent offenders. Give the inmates a reason to do well and learn in prison but there is no real rehab. My son was in the USCG and served in New York for 9-11 picking up body parts. He suffered from PTSD but you don’t really care about the stories of these men. He took drugs to forget the pain of 9-11 and if Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He is doing well now but doesn’t deserve to be where he is because he has worked hard to overcome his addiction. He was in the SOAR program and served as the Senior Coordinator of the program. They have the knowledge they are helping themselves but there is nothing to motivate them further. I voted all Democratic but that has truly disappointed me because I thought Republicans were doing a lousy job but the majority of you are. Extremely disappointing. Please include ALL INMATES for earned good time credits beginning July 1, 2021! The final decision will be the parole board so what have you got to lose. Please do your job!! There are many inmates who have worked hard to discover who they are but the state does nothing. The facilities are poorly managed and we the people treat them worse than dogs. Shameful shameful!!
To the esteemed Members of the Committee: I write on behalf of the Commonwealth's Attorneys of Norfolk, Fairfax, and Arlington, who ask that the Committee send SB 5007 on to the full floor of the House for passage and enactment. SB 5007 reaffirms Virginians' sacred right to a trial by jury and conforms our criminal practice to that of 44 states and the federal government, where the fundamental question of guilt goes to a jury of one's peers and the technical question of sentencing goes to a trained professional: the judge. Due to a number of factors, but chiefly due to the higher sentencing ranges available to a jury and the fact that, according to the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, in 2019, juries imposed sentences above our sentencing guidelines at a rate of 36.7% versus 7.5% for judges. In practical terms, it is inevitable that people who wish for the judgement of a jury of their peers waive that fundamental, constitutional right. There has been much talk of the potential fiscal impact of this bill, but the fact is that a host of factors will determine whether and how much of an increase in jury trials the enactment of this bill would produce, and none of those factors should stop the enactment of this bill in this session. First, we note the SB 5007 is unquestionably the most important criminal-justice-reform bill currently under consideration in this Session, and while its opponents say that we cannot afford to implement it, in reality we cannot afford to wait any longer. This bill deals with an individual's sacred, constitutional right to trial, which is priceless. Second, we note that the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission recorded only 286 jury sentences in their 2019 annual report. For the purposes of estimating a fiscal impact, assuming an acquittal rate of even 50% (which is certainly a high estimate), that means that a total of less than 600 cases were trials by jury that year. Virginia has between 700 and 800 prosecutors. Third, we note that the only way to know what the fiscal impact of this bill will be to enact it. Myriad factors will influence whether, on balance, more cases will go to a trial by jury and how many. For example, the number of juries will likely increase, but, on the other hand, the average length of a jury, shorn of the jury-sentencing phase, will likely decrease. Attempting to determine the fiscal impact of these and a host of other factors is akin to solving a mathematical problem with a hundred variables; it is impossible. We recommend that the General Assembly enact SB 5007, collect the hard data on its effects, and stand ready to make any necessary adjustments to funding in the coming fiscal years. Finally, we note the sad reality that, thanks to a host of extrinsic factors, a disproportionate percentage of the people in the criminal justice system -- defendants, victims, and grieving families -- are Black and Brown Virginians. The Commonwealth has a moral obligation to afford them their constitutional rights, none of which is more sacred than the judgment of their peers, free of any other considerations. The enactment of the fundamental reform in SB 5007 would be real proof that we honor our commitment to the principle that Black Lives Matter. Ramin Fatehi Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney City of Norfolk
My son is currently serving time for a violation of 18.2-374.3 which is use of a computer to inappropriately communicate with minors. This was the result of him using an online dating site at the age of 19 and led him to make contact with a 14 y-o. He never met or had any other contact with the minor other than by electronic means. My son is an Honors College graduate from James Madison University and finished his degree during the very difficult period of the investigation of his crime. As you are likely aware, his crime is non-violent and grouped with other “obscenities” in Article 5 of 18.2-362. As you can imagine, we were deeply disappointed to see the entirety of Article 5 was added as an exclusion in the most recent form of the bill. There are many non-violent offenders within the Article 5 code like my son, whom have otherwise clean records and desperately seek the opportunity for hope that the new sentencing credits could provide. This is why I respectfully and humbly ask for your fight to remove Article 5 from the exceptions of the final bill as it continues to be reconciled between the House and Senate. Respectfully, Melisa Dugal
Good morning, members of the committee and chair of the committee. My name is Yely Montano, and I am CASA’s Virginia Advocacy Specialist. We are a community-based organization fighting for justice & equity. I’m here today to speak on behalf of our 10,000 members. We, as CASA, ask you to support SB 5030, SB 5017, and SB 5038 by Senators Locke, Boysko, and McPike, respectively. These bills are all unique, but each is imperative to either improving the safety of our communities, policing practices, and promoting justice for all. Thank you.
If SB5934 and hb5148 please keep both dates as originally written. I would love my loves one to be released next year because of covid and the fact that they can not social distance. I'm afraid for his safety and well being.
I am writing asking the committee to take an unbiased look at SB 5007. This bill, if passed, will place an undue burden on the Commonwealth and her courts. First, the cost of the bill would be in the multi million dollar range. The Commonwealth would have to provide hundreds of new positions including, but not limited to, prosecutors, public defenders, bailiffs, judges and probation officers to cover the increased workload that would come with the passage of this bill. Not to mention the extra courtrooms and other facilities that would have to be provided to handle the increased demand of jury trials. Also, dockets would become backed up beyond belief. This would delay the right to a speedy trial and affect the civil dockets disproportionately because of the deference criminal proceedings are given. Other avenues could be explored (giving the jury the sentencing guidelines or allowing the jury the ability to suspend sentences) to effectuate positive reform in the criminal justice system. This bill would not make a positive impact on the system, it would only cause delays in justice and astronomical costs. Thank You
Have you ever been given a second chance? How did you feel? Second Chances should be a fundamental part of a fair & equitable justice system. Make a difference for families devastated by incarceration by making second chances a part of our criminal justice system. Please vote to support Sen Boysko's SB5034 Prisoners: conditional release, earned sentence credit bill with NO further Exclusions. Thank you.
Good Morning; Today the House Appropriations Committee will review Sen Boysko's SB5034 with substitute, Prisoners: conditional release, earned sentence credits Bill. Earned Sentence Credits were approved by the Crime Commission and the bill deserves your support with NO further Exclusions. Del Scott and Sen Boysko have 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 substitute) with NO further EXCLUSIONS or Amendments. Thank you. Gary and Debra Turner
Good Morning, I am Darrell K. White, Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church located in the Gum Springs community of Alexandria, VA. For over one hundred and fifty-seven years, Bethlehem has been providing support for the families in the community and along the Richmond Highway (Route 1) corridor. I take this time to write on behalf of the unbelievable number of lives and families, along with the subsequent quality of life which will be impacted by this untimely crisis of Eviction. And yet as a crisis, there is an opportunity for each of you who represent all of us, to respond in a way that reflects whose image we are made in. The rift and ripple effect of large-scale evictions can have a devastating effect immediately on our Commonwealth's economy, healthcare (mental health included), education system, access to employment, and human services. In addition to the conflicting reports and politics surrounding the Coronavirus, we are beginning our transition into the Flu/ Colds, rainy and winter seasons of the year. I need not mention the escalating rise of homelessness in our towns, counties and cities. I am aware that much of what I have cited, you are well versed. As you prepare to make what some would deem a difficult decision, I just want to remind you in the words of another great American who also had to wrestle with a larger than life difficult decision. The Reverend Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. once said that, "the ark of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I reference Dr. King's words to also encourage and remind you that the One in whose image you are made, reached into His Creator's toolbox and pull out COMPASSION as the tool of choice to navigate that bend toward an outcome that would have life fulfilling opportunities. Your willingness to seize this opportunity and exercise compassion toward those who will be homeless, can also serve as an opportunity for those facing this crisis. Thank you for your legislative leadership during these uncertain times. Growing in Grace, Darrell K. White, D. Min Senior Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church