Harvey L. Bryant, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Virginia Beach, announced today that many positive changes in Virginia criminal law went into effect on July 1, 2012. Governor Bob McDonnell made public safety one of his highest priorities in his legislative initiatives for this year’s General Assembly. Thanks to his efforts and that of his administration, these laws will enhance the efforts of law enforcement, help to deter criminal conduct, and keep our community and citizens safer.
Effective July 1, 2012:
· Sex offenders whose victims are under age 13 may now face mandatory (the sentence cannot be suspended or reduced by the court) life sentences if convicted of rape, forcible sodomy, or object sexual penetration. Currently the law provides a punishment of five years to life imprisonment.
· The penalty for assault and battery of a family or household member increases from a misdemeanor to a felony when the offense is committed through strangulation or choking resulting in wounding or bodily injury of the victim. Up to five years in prison may be imposed in such cases. Protective order enforcement and the enhancement of victims’ safety will be served by legislation requiring Circuit Court clerks to enter protective orders into the Virginia Criminal Information Network by the end of the day on which the order is signed by a judge. Thus, police and sheriffs statewide will have same-day verification of the existence of such an order and be able to take appropriate action should a violation of the order be reported to them.
· Drug dealers who don’t get the message after their first conviction will receive at least a required mandatory minimum sentence of three years for their second conviction for drug dealing. Currently the potential five to life sentence for a second offense has no mandatory minimum, and allows for suspended time and probation. A third and subsequent conviction will require a mandatory sentence of at least ten years, rather than the current mandatory minimum of five years. The Governor also proposed legislation that will now make the consequences potentially more severe for the third conviction of drug dealers 14 years of age and over by allowing them to be tried as adults.
· The chemical combination of synthetic cannabinoids and so called “bath salts” is now broader. To stay ahead of the continuing efforts of illegal drug “chemists”, Governor McDonnell strongly supported a bill that provides a more generic prohibition for the proliferation of synthetic cannabinoids and “bath salts.” Without this bill, every slight chemical change in a synthetic compound would take it outside the current law’s prohibition.
Taking the profit out of drug dealing and certain other criminal activities is an important tool for law enforcement. In early 2011 the Governor formed a working group of local, state and federal prosecutors and law enforcement agencies. He tasked that group with formulating revisions that would simplify and clarify the legal procedures used to forfeit to the State assets obtained with drug money and certain other criminal activity. That group’s recommendations were translated into legislation that should encourage law enforcement to take a more aggressive role in taking the profit out of drug trafficking. The legislation also strengthens and simplifies procedural protections for innocent property owners and lien holders whose property may have been used in the course of specified criminal activity. State law continues to require that assets forfeited to the state be used for a law enforcement purpose such as the purchase of equipment, and for training of law enforcement personnel.
“These are some of the new laws that will become important additions to the armory available in the battle against crime in the defense of the safety of our citizens,” Bryant said. “Thanks to the Governor, the Delegates and Senators who patroned his legislation, and to the General Assembly members who voted in favor of it. While the jobs of Virginia’s police, sheriffs and prosecutors won’t necessarily become any easier, our efforts will certainly be more effective.”
Please contact Macie Pridgen if additional information is desired.