Gov. Northam seeks immediate parole consideration for ‘Fishback’ inmates

Updated: Apr. 13, 2020 at 6:08 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Three-hundred inmates will soon have a chance at parole, thanks to a new Virginia law.

Governor Ralph Northam signed or proposed amendments to dozens of bills just before Saturday’s midnight deadline. Among those were two so-called “Fishback” bills, which would give people sentenced between 1995 and 2000 a chance at parole.

Parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995, but juries weren’t required to be instructed of that change until 2000, after a Virginia Supreme Court ruling in Fishback v. Commonwealth.

“For these five years, juries would say, ‘You know, let’s take an example like 100 years,’" Juliet Hatchett of The Innocence Project at University of Virginia Law School said. “They would think that meant that the person was going to become parole eligible in 20 years or something like that, and then that wasn’t the case. So, they’re giving much longer sentences than they actually realized that they had been giving.”

Northam proposed an amendment to the bill, adding an emergency clause due to the coronavirus. He asks that those inmates be given the chance at parole immediately instead of waiting until July 1, when the law would have gone into effect.

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