Virginia governor signs criminal justice reform bills into law
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Virginia governor signs criminal justice reform bills into law

Virginia after Governor Ralph Northam signed numerous landmark bills into law Sunday, including multiple criminal justice reform bills.

House Bill 972 decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana and creates a $25 civil penalty but removes the current criminal offense classification as a misdemeanor. This will take effect July 1 if the General Assembly agrees to technical amendments proposed by Northam.

House Bill 277 and Senate Bill 736 were signed to reverse the standing rule that people who are incarcerated may only earn towards fines and court costs before or after incarceration. These bills will permit the individuals to earn credits towards their balances while incarcerated. A large number of the incarcerated population are in the system because they are unable to pay these fines.

House Bill 1196 and Senate Bill 1 stop the current practice of suspending licenses of people who cannot afford to pay their court fines or fees. This old practice resulted in a cycle of people going in and out of incarceration because they could not drive to work, due to their licenses being suspended, thus they were unable to pay their fines. House Bill 909 and Senate Bill 513 remove license suspensions for other reasons deemed unnecessary.

House Bill 477 and Senate Bill 546 raise the age that the Commonwealth’s Attorney can move a juvenile to be tried as an adult without court approval from 14 to 16.

House Bill 995 and Senate Bill 788 move the grand larceny amount from $500 to $1,000. Lastly, House Bill 33 and Senate Bill 793, known as the “Fishback” bill, make individuals sentenced between 1995 and 2000 eligible for parole. Virginia removed parole in 1995 but juries were not informed of this until 2000 when a court case required the jury to be informed. This “Fishback” bill permits a reassessment for those who may have been sentenced under misinformed juries.