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Virginia Lawmakers Move To Defelonize Assaults On Police Along With Other Reforms

Richmond, VA – Virginia lawmakers are considering a proposal to downgrade the charge of assault on a law enforcement officer from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Under current Virginia law, suspects convicted of assaulting a police officer face a minimum of six months in jail and a maximum of five years in jail, FOX News reported.

Misdemeanor convictions carry a potential penalty of up to one year in jail and have no mandatory minimum.

The “Senate Democratic Caucus Police Reform and Criminal Justice Equity Plan” lists a total of 28 police reform proposals drafted in the wake of mass riots and protests that have left cities across the country in flames.

“The deaths of [George] Floyd, [Ahmaud] Arbery and [Breonna] Taylor have awoken Americans and Virginians to long-standing problems in policing in America,” the Virginia Senate Democrats said in a press release, according to the Fort Hunt Herald.

“After people are arrested, additional damage is done by a criminal justice system that has been streamlined to produce convictions and punishment instead of rehabilitation and justice,” the democrats added.

The Senate Democratic Caucus said it developed the proposal after conducting “a series of community conversations,” FOX News reported.

Due to those “conversations,” the group of lawmakers decided that no further research into the issue of alleged police brutality or claims of systemic racism are warranted.

“We have heard from the public that now is not the time for studies or delay and that changes must be made during our Special Session,” the proposal read, according to FOX News.

“We will continue to take public input and work with stakeholders, the House of Delegates, state agencies, and Governor [Ralph] Northam to refine these measures over the next 60 days,” the group added.

Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell, who is also a defense attorney, told FOX News that suspects have been charged with felony assault on a law enforcement officer for a wide range of physical contact with police, including “minor bumps.”

Because the charge is currently a felony, suspects feel pressured to plead guilty to additional misdemeanor charges in an effort to avoid the potential ramifications of a felony conviction, Surovell claimed.

According to the Virginia State Police (VSP), a total of 1,939 law enforcement officers were assaulted in the line of duty in 2019, the Fort Hunt Herald reported.

Of the officers who were assaulted in 2019, four suffered potential internal injuries, seven suffered broken bones, 22 experienced other severe injuries, and 497 suffered minor injuries, the Fort Hunt Herald reported.

Additional items listed in the proposal include requiring police to issue warnings before they fire their weapons, establishing a ban on “chokeholds,” and eliminating officers’ authorization to search suspects or their vehicles “based on odor of marijuana without probable cause for other offenses,” the Fort Hunt Herald reported.

Police would be prohibited from discharging their weapons at moving vehicles, regardless of the circumstances.

Officers who have been fired or resigned during use-of-force investigations would also be prohibited from being hired by another Virginia law enforcement agency.

Any law enforcement agencies determined to have experienced “disproportionate use of force incidents in their jurisdiction” would be subject to a potential decrease in supplemental funding, according to FOX News.

The proposal further called for the creation of a citizen’s review board, which would be “empowered to investigate, fire and/or discipline officers,” according to the Fort Hunt Herald.

In order to become law, the measures would need to be passed by the Virginia House of Delegates – which is currently controlled by the Democratic Party – and signed off on by Northam, who is also a Democrat, the Fort Hunt Herald reported.

“The Senate Democratic Caucus has led in the area of Criminal Justice Reform for years and we look forward to working with the Governor and the House of Delegates to collaboratively enact these policies,” the proposal read, according to FOX News.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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