The proposal is among dozens of suggested criminal justice reforms
Virginia Democrats are proposing a long list of criminal justice reforms in response to the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, but while some of them – such as banning chokeholds – are aimed at protecting citizens, at least one measure could reduce protection for officers.
According to a document shared by multiple local reporters and retweeted by the Virginia Senate Democrats, the proposals include downgrading the charge of assault on a police officer from a felony to a misdemeanor.
“The Senate Democratic Caucus has led and is continuing to conduct a series of community conversations to discuss these issues and 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,” says the document, which is titled, “Senate Democratic Caucus Police Reform and Criminal Justice Equity Plan.”
It goes on to say, “We will continue to take public input and work with stakeholders, the House of Delegates, state agencies, and Governor Northam to refine these measures over the next 60 days.”
Currently, assaulting an officer is a Class 6 felony with a minimum penalty of six months in jail and a maximum of five years. Misdemeanors carry a one-year maximum and no minimum.
Virginia state Sen. Scott Surovell told Fox News in a phone interview that assault on an officer has only been a felony since 1997, and that was done as part of a compromise related to harsher treatment of hate crimes. He said that as a result of this, any kind of unwanted contact with an officer including “minor bumps” could be charged as a felony, and that such cases have been prosecuted accordingly.
Surovell, who is also a criminal defense attorney, said that police often tack on felony charges for minor incidents. As a result of the felony charge, defendants face additional pressure to plead guilty, he said.
In addition to reducing the consequences for assaulting an officer, the proposals also include a number of restrictions that would be imposed on police officers to limit the use of force. These proposals include required attempts to de-escalate situations before using force, as well as issuing warnings and exhausting “all other means” before firing shots.
The proposals also call for canceling supplemental funding to local police departments if they have had “disproportionate use of force incidents in their jurisdiction.” Surovell explained that while the details have yet to be ironed out, the idea is that there would be a uniform standard of force, and that if a particular department was found to be disproportionately using force against a particular group over the course of a year, they could face reduced funding.
Additional proposed reforms include prohibiting the searches of people or vehicles based on an odor of marijuana if there is no suspicion of any other offenses, and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences.
“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 document says.
Author: Ronn Blitzer