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.
Bryan Kennedy & Catherine F. Zagurskie,
Empowering the Defense to Confront the Government's Powers: Virginia Criminal Justice Legal Reform,
Rich. Pub. Int. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.richmond.edu/pilr/vol25/iss1/5