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Editorial: Not all Virginia laws are created equal

Editorial Board • Jan 22, 2020 at 10:00 PM

A proposed liberal overhaul of Virginia’s criminal justice system can only be stopped if residents demand their representatives oppose those parts they find objectionable.

There are some good points such as a proposed decriminalization of marijuana. It is well past time that Virginia — and Tennessee — joined the 25 states that have passed laws either fully or partially decriminalizing certain marijuana possession offenses. Typically, decriminalization means no arrest, prison time or criminal record for the first-time possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal consumption.

The continued criminalization of marijuana wastes tax dollars to no good purpose including the time of law enforcement, clogs our court systems, drives an underground economy that generates all manner of criminal activity, and puts otherwise law-abiding citizens in jail for possessing small amounts of a plant material that study after study has proven to be no more dangerous than alcohol.

Another bill worthy of support would allow offenders to earn credit for community service during incarceration, which could be used to cover fines and court costs. This would reduce the amount of debt inmates have after they have served their sentence, which will ease their transition back into the community.

Among the various bills in the judicial reform package that should be opposed are those that would:

• Consider age and medical condition in parole decisions. Those factors should not be relevant to whether parole is merited.

• End suspended driver’s licenses for non-driving-related offenses for drug crimes, failing to pay jail fees and for driving off without paying for fuel. A driver’s license is a privilege extended by the state. It should continue to be put at risk for breaking the state’s laws.

• Raise the age to try juveniles as adults from 14 to 16. To what purpose? Is a 14-year-old less capable of judging right from wrong? Leave the law as is.

• Provide parole eligibility for persons who were juveniles when sentenced to life in prison for single or multiple felony offenses and who have served 25 or more years of their sentence. We see no good reason for this bill.

• Increase the minimum amount of money, goods or property to make a theft grand larceny, from $500 to either $750, $1,500 or $2,000. Why encourage people to steal even more without significant penalty?

• A mandatory three-year prison sentence for violation of protective orders while armed. We oppose mandatory prison sentences because they remove a judge’s discretion and purpose.