Virginia legislature will become much softer on crime if Democrats take control of it on November 7

Virginia legislature will become much softer on crime if Democrats take control of it on November 7
House chamber, Virginia Assembly. State Capitol, Richmond. YouTube

Democrats are slightly favored to win control of Virginia’s legislature in this year’s election, although the election will be very close. If they take over, the legislature will become much softer on crime than it is now, because incoming Democratic leaders are more left-wing than their mainstream liberal predecessors. For example, if Democrats win control of the House of Delegates, the Speaker of the House will be Democratic leader Don Scott, a convicted felon, not his mainstream liberal predecessor, Eileen Filler-Corn.

Back in 2020, Don Scott proposed radical legislation that would release dangerous criminals from prison, even if prison and parole officials had proof of their continuing dangerousness. It failed to pass back then, because Scott was a junior legislator, and Democrats were more mainstream liberal, and less left-wing, than they are now. The only moderate Democrats in the Virginia legislature are either retiring — such as state senator Lynwood Lewis — or were defeated in the Spring 2023 Democratic primary. Some mainstream liberals are also leaving the legislature, like George Barker, who was defeated in a primary by a candidate to his left, and Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, who is retiring.

Scott’s legislation in 2020 was very bad, and at odds with public safety. If he becomes House Speaker, he might be able to use his power to get his fellow Democrats to pass it. Then, he could hold Republican Governor Youngkin’s priorities hostage unless Youngkin allows such legislation to become law. For example, Scott could get Democrats to block the governor’s appointments. The Virginia Senate only approved Governor Youngkin’s appointment of Bert Ellis to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors because the Senate’s two moderate Democrats voted along with Republicans to confirm him. Both of those Democrats are leaving the legislature after this year. The House of Delegates can also block appointments to many posts in Virginia.

As this blog explained in 2020:

A proposed law would require Virginia prisons to release many murderers when they reach age 60 or 65, even if prison officials know they are dangerous. Under a bill proposed Friday by Delegate Don Scott (D-Portsmouth), parole officials would be stripped of their authority to block such inmates’ release.

Right now, Virginia’s parole board has the leeway to grant “geriatric release” to many older inmates. If it wants to, it can release inmates if they have been in prison for ten years and have reached the age of 60, or if they have been in prison for five years and have reached the age of 65 — as long as they haven’t committed a “Class 1” felony, which includes certain types of murders, like killing a police officer.

But it doesn’t have to release such inmates, and it tends not to, unless an inmate is both in poor health and no longer dangerous.

Delegate Scott’s bill, House Bill 431, would totally change this, leaving state officials powerless to block the release of many vicious killers. It says that:

Any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction for a felony offense, other than a Class 1 felony, (i) who has reached the age of 65 or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of 60 or older and who has served at least 10 years of the sentence imposed may petition the Parole Board for shall be granted conditional release.

Scott’s bill would require Virginia prisons to release them at that age, even if they have committed murder after previously being released, or they committed acts of violence in prison.

The assumption behind Scott’s bill is that people “age out of” crime by the time they are 60 or 65. But that’s not always true. Serial killer Albert Fish was deadly into his 60s. And some people remain dangerous even when they are very old.

A classic example is Albert Flick. At the age of 76, he murdered a woman, stabbing her at least 11 times while her twin children watched. He had previously been imprisoned from 1979 to 2004 for killing his wife by stabbing her 14 times in front of her daughter. Then he assaulted a woman in 2010, but avoided a long prison sentence because a judge deemed him too old to be a continuing threat. He proved the judge wrong by killing Kimberly Dobbie in front of her children in 2018. He began stabbing her without warning, in front of a laundromat, in broad daylight, using knives he purchased two days earlier for that purpose.

Under Scott’s bill, an inmate like Flick would have to be released after five years in prison, no matter what. That would be very scary for victims’ families.

Scott’s bill is not the only legislation pending in Virginia that would release violent criminals. Legislators have also proposed bills to reinstate parole in Virginia, which had been largely abolished in 1995. Parole would be available even to violent criminals who got shorter sentences in the past decade under the assumption that they’d never be eligible for parole.

On January 3, Governor Ralph Northam (D) proposed making prisoners eligible for parole at age 50 if they’ve served 20 years. Since murderers, unlike most criminals, often receive ten or more years in prison, the primary beneficiaries of Northam’s plan would be murderers. They would be eligible for parole at that age, even when they committed the worst murders, such as abducting and raping the victim before killing her, or killing multiple people.

Gov. Northam has also proposed making prisoners eligible for parole after only 15 years, when they reach age 55 — which could result in people who commit murder at age 50 serving only a few years in prison.

Legislators have also proposed extending voting rights to inmates. As the Daily Caller notes, that legislation “appears to allow prisoners to vote in the jurisdiction of the jail, potentially making inmates a powerful voting bloc in sparsely populated communities.”

“Virginia’s largest state prisons are in sparsely populated areas” where a large inmate population could defeat candidates preferred by most of the native population.

Most of these pro-criminal bills failed because they were opposed not just by Republicans, but also by a few moderate Democrats like Lynwood Lewis. But those moderate Democrats won’t be in the legislature in 2024 and 2025.

The legislature picks judges in Virginia. A Democratic legislature will pick judges more likely to rule in favor of criminal defendants, such as the progressive judge in Fairfax County who ruled in 2020 that it violated the Constitution for a courtroom to contain the portraits of mostly white judges during the trial of a minority defendant. If applied retroactively, such rulings could lead to the release of thousands of violent criminals, because courtrooms commonly contain portraits of past and present judges, and most Virginia judges are, and have been, white. Virginia’s population is still mostly non-Hispanic white.

LU Staff

LU Staff

Promoting and defending liberty, as defined by the nation’s founders, requires both facts and philosophical thought, transcending all elements of our culture, from partisan politics to social issues, the workings of government, and entertainment and off-duty interests. Liberty Unyielding is committed to bringing together voices that will fuel the flame of liberty, with a dialogue that is lively and informative.

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