Senators from southwest Virginia push for criminal justice reform at General Assembly

Bill Stanley and John Edwards are playing a big role in this years session

Senators from Southwest Virginia are pushing for sweeping changes.

RICHMOND, Va – As the General Assembly session enters its second full week, Senators from southwest Virginia are pushing for sweeping changes in the criminal justice system.

This week Senator John Edwards of Roanoke sponsored a bill that would abolish minimum sentencing standards for low-level offenders.

“We have sentencing guidelines, they’re very good judges and juries to the judges typically follow the sentencing guidelines the minimum mandatory is very problematic, the General Assembly should not be in the business of sending down minimum mandatory sentences in other cases,” Democratic Senator John Edwards said.

The bill excludes class one felonies. It ultimately moved forward to the Senate Finance committee and will be voted on by the full chamber.

Republican Bill Stanley of Franklin County has been working for changes of his own. The state repealed a law in 1999 that classifies drivers with multiple violations as habitual offenders.

“Once you’re created to be a habitual offender then it enhanced the penalties that you would otherwise face. We’ve now have tailored other options for punishment for those driving offenses,” Republican Senator Bill Stanley said.

Stanley says 32,000 Virginians still bear that title despite the changes made more than two decades ago.

“The problem we’ve left 32,000 Virginians on an island branded them in a manner which allows them never to never to regain their status as a good citizen in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Stanley said.

Stanley says the stigma that comes with the title habitual offenders can impact people’s chances of getting a job.

“We should judge a person based on their actions, not put a title on them. And then enhance a penalty because we put in an arbitrary title on them,” Stanley said.

Both bills will need to be signed by the governor to become law.

About the Author:

Annie Schroeder joined the 10 News team as a reporter in June 2020 and is no stranger to Southwest Virginia.