During the 2021 Session and 2021 Special Session, Virginia took steps to

restore the balance between individuals ensnared in the criminal legal system

and the government. These new laws allow people who are involved in

the criminal legal system to emphasize their humanity and to hold the government

to its various burdens at all stages of the case, including pre-trial,

trials, sentencing, and appeal. This article discusses four of the most important

changes to Virginia law that ensure a more level playing field between

the government and the accused.

First, eliminating the presumption against bail challenges the government’s

power of pre-trial detention, as no longer is a person automatically

considered dangerous just because of the name of their charge. Second, by

creating a rule of evidence allowing introduction of mental condition evidence

to negate intent at trial, people with mental illnesses and developmental

disabilities will not be placed into the all-or-nothing unrealistic category

of insanity. Third, jury sentencing reform will actually provide a meaningful

right to a jury trial as the government will not be able to force the accused

into a jury sentence. Finally, Virginians will join the rest of the country with

a right to a merits review by an appellate court after conviction of a crime.

While time will tell how effective these changes will be, all ensure that the

system is fairer and more just for those facing trial in Virginia.