Senate committee votes to eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences

Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 7:16 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - Legislation that would eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences in Virginia cleared a Senate committee Monday.

Introduced by Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke), Senate Bill 1443 would not affect mandatory sentences for the most serious felonies.

But supporters of the change say mandatory minimums take away a judge’s discretion, and force defendants to plead guilty.

Andy Elders is with the group Justice Forward Virginia.

“And when you’re faced with mandatory five, ten, twenty years, or a mandatory life sentence,” Elders told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “your ability to say I didn’t do it is compromised.”

Representatives of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association and the Virginia State Police Association said they oppose removing the mandatory minimum sentence for assaulting a police officer.

John Jones is executive director of the sheriffs’ association.

‘We’ve all seen how words matter,” Jones said. “We think this bill will matter by saying that it’s not as serious as it used to be to assault a law enforcement officer.”

Republicans have also argued that mandatory minimums are a proven tool to reduce gun crimes.

The committee approved the measure on a vote that fell along party lines.

It now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

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