Virginia Governor McAuliffe Proposes Criminal Justice Reforms

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Governor Terry McAuliffe Governor Terry McAuliffe

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) unveiled his vision for criminal justice reform on Tuesday.

He wants the General Assembly to change the law so Virginians cannot have their licenses suspended over offenses unrelated to driving. McAuliffe says this currently applies to 200,000 Virginians.

"You're taking away their driver's license so they can't drive to work, to earn the income to actually pay the fines. That makes absolutely no sense," said McAuliffe. 

There are also thousands of others in the commonwealth that cannot drive because they're unable to pay legal or court fees. The Department of Justice has filed legal briefings on the matter and has called the law unconstitutional.

McAuliffe made this call to action from CARITAS in Richmond, an organization that helps with housing and workforce training. Robert Reid has benefited from the organization and he’s hoping to find work once again in construction, but struggles because of a driver's license suspension.

"It would be greatly appreciated, not only by me, but other people in my situation. That would be a big help for us to be able to have a license to get to work, and we can become productive citizens," said Reid. 

In addition to changing the driver's license suspension laws, McAuliffe announced other bills he would like lawmakers to take up in the upcoming session.

McAuliffe said the felony larceny threshold is too low, and he would like to see that go from $200 up to $500. The bar was set in 1980, and McAuliffe says this is now outdated.

"Think about it - the purchase power of $200 in 1980 today is now $585. The least we can do is address this in order that we can keep up with inflation," said McAuliffe.

Another bill proposed by McAuliffe would allow more people to seek innocence if new or untested DNA evidence is discovered after a conviction.

"Individuals who are charged with a crime, regardless of the severity, are often afraid to take their chance at a trial when it means uncertainty in the outcome," said McAulliffe. 

The 2017 General Assembly session begins next week. The Democratic governor will need to win over a Republican-led legislature for any of these measures to move forward.

Speaker Bill Howell, (R-28th District), released a statement today in response to McAuliffe's outreach on driver's license suspension laws. He says he's open to reform but is concerned about the timing.

“I am very sympathetic toward individuals who get trapped in a vicious cycle of having their license revoked, not being able to travel to work, losing their job, and not being able to pay off court costs. However, the General Assembly must be very careful as this issue is currently being litigated in court. We will begin carefully reviewing all of Governor McAuliffe’s legislative proposals relating to criminal justice reforms this coming session," Howell said in a news release.

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