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State Senate votes to eliminate mandatory minimum sentence for assaulting a police officer

Published: Aug. 26, 2020 at 10:34 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - As state lawmakers consider criminal justice reforms, one of the most controversial is a proposal that would modify the penalty for assaulting a police officer.

Wednesday, members of the Virginia Senate voted to eliminate the mandatory minimum sentence.

The death of George Floyd and the unrest that followed in the streets of many American cities focused attention on police reforms.

Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) said his legislation would address the problem of excessive penalties for slight offenses that don’t cause injury.

“It does not defund the police,” Surovell said. “It does not grant anyone the right to assault first responders. It does not make it legal to inflict injuries on any first responder. And it does not change the law of malicious wounding in the Commonwealth.”

Republicans were quick to respond.

“All of these bills that have been put forth, they might not be defunding the police,” said Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg), “but they are damn sure demoralizing every single law enforcement officer in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“If you touch a police officer or a first responder, you’re going to jail,” said Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin Co.). “It’s called deterrence.”

Democrats argued the legislation will give law enforcement officers more discretion in the charges they decide to pursue.

“It repeals the mandatory minimum,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), “so we can trust our judges to look at the facts of the case and decide, is the punishment proportionate to the crime.”

Democrats hold the majority in the State Senate, and the bill passed on a vote of 21 to 15.

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