Governor McAuliffe Proposes Criminal Justice Reforms for 2017

Governor Terry McAuliffe has proposed a legislative package of commonsense reforms to Virginia’s criminal justice system for the 2017 General Assembly session. The package includes reforms aimed at better aligning Virginia’s justice system to keep people safe and connect punishments with the severity of crimes: preventing Virginians from having their driver license suspended due to the inability to pay outstanding court fees, allowing all convicted persons of felonies to petition the court to issue a writ of actual innocence based on DNA evidence and increasing the felony larceny threshold to align Virginia with the majority of the United States.

The details of the Governor’s criminal justice agenda are below:

Eliminating the suspension of a driver license due to the inability to pay court costs for most non-driving related offenses;

The Governor today announced two bills aimed at reducing the practice of suspending the driver licenses of offenders who either cannot afford to pay court costs or who committed a non-driving offense. Nearly 650,000 Virginians currently have a suspended driver license because they cannot afford to pay their legal fees and court costs to the state. Another 200,000 have lost their licenses for offenses that have nothing to do with driving. For many, personal vehicles are the only travel option to their job, and their driver license suspension prevents them from employment, and ultimately from paying their court costs and building a more productive life.

Eliminating arbitrary barriers to a writ of actual innocence based on new or untested human biological evidence;

The Governor announced legislation to expand the eligibility to obtain a writ of actual innocence if new or untested evidence is discovered. Currently, only certain defendants can petition the courts for a writ of actual innocence after the conclusion of a trial. The proposed legislation expands the opportunity for defendants who pleaded guilty to petition the court for a writ of actual innocence based on new or untested DNA evidence.

Raising Virginia’s felony larceny threshold to $500.

Finally, the Governor announced legislation to raise Virginia’s felony larceny threshold from $200 to $500. Virginia’s felony larceny threshold is currently the lowest in the country, set at $200, meaning that an individual who steals one pair of high end athletic shoes is subject to enormous employment, housing and other difficulties that come with a felony conviction. The threshold was first set in 1980, almost 40 years ago. The purchasing power of $200 in 1980 is now over $500. This legislation will proportionately revise the punishment for theft in Virginia and align Virginia with the rest of the nation in distinguishing misdemeanor and felony theft. 

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