"Improving the effectiveness and fairness of Virginias' criminial justice system"--RIHD

Jury deliberations are weighty and complex, making it vital participants be able to factor in all the relevant information. Yet, for five years, juries in Virginia imposed heavy-handed sentences without knowing the state had decided to abolish its parole system.
In cases where juries inquired as to whether a defendant might one day be eligible for parole --- judges replied that, because of a legal restrictions, they weren’t allowed to answer.
Looking back, jurors who served during this period (1995 to 2000) have said they would have imposed shorter, fairer sentences, had they known parole release wasn’t being offered to prisoners, anymore.
The Virginia legislature has the power to fix this mistake by granting resentencing proceedings to the affected parties. We’ve waited long enough. The time to act is now.

Show Support for Change.  Online Petition:

2017 Proposed legislation Senate Bill 825 (SB825); Senator Jennifer T. Wexton (D) -33;  New Sentence Per Fishback Ruling
Defendants in Virginia are getting trapped by harsh sentencing and denied the right to a fair appeal.
Kevin Key was a first time offender convicted of a nonviolent drug offense. Sentencing guidelines presented by probation and parole officials recommended no more than 2 years and 2 days of incarceration.
Instead, he was sentenced to 31 years. Because Virginia abolished parole, he won’t get out until 2027. His family lives in California and can’t afford to visit him because they have drained their bank accounts for legal expenses.
Kevin Key’s case is not unique. In more than 3000 cases between 2007 and 2013(1) judges provided no written reason for exceeding sentencing guidelines -- even though they are required to do so by law (Va. Code § 19.2-298.01). What’s worse, Virginia law does not allow this to form the basis of post-conviction relief or be reviewable on appeal.
The Virginia legislature has the power to change this. We need you to tell your legislators to amend the Virginia Code to address this injustice.  (1) 1995-2006 & 2014 to current; estimated 10,000 plus additional sentencing guideline disparity cases. 

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RIHD Sentencing Reform Position Paper

RIHD was contacted by individuals and families incarcerated under unfair sentencing laws in 2009 to create a support group.
Since that time, RIHD has become a leader in the state sentencing reform movement and a major grassroots force for justice.
During the imposition of the “Truth in Sentencing Laws,” and elimination of parole by Virginia  in 1995, several errors occurred including hundreds to possibly thousands of individuals being sentenced by juries who were unaware that parole had been
abolished. The courts determined that this information would not be shared with jurors and the results were that those sentenced received inflated sentencing with the assumption that those convicted would serve only a portion of the sentence as had been
the case under parole. This practice continued unabated for five years until the Virginia Supreme Court ruled against it in
Fishback v. Commonwealth. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court only ruled in the Fishback case and did not make the ruling
retroactive. This has stood as a stain on the idea of justice for all in Virginia. Today over 400 individuals affected by these
errors in sentencing remain incarcerated. RIHD brought this issue to the attention of the 2015-16 Commission on Parole created
by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the commission in its final report issued a recommendation that it be corrected. Unfortunately,
several legislative attempts to correct this error failed in an extremely conservative General Assembly. Yet, during this past year,
RIHD has made it an issue that will not disappear. We plan an outreach and education campaign on this issue in the later-half
of the year and are working with partners to produce research and a more detailed data analysis of the racial disparities in those sentenced prior to Fishback.  RIHD is also working to educate lawmakers and policy advocates and communities on additional sentencing reforms including the improper and racially-biased use of judicial discretion without explanation when judges go
outside the guidelines. This is possible due to another technical error written into law with the implementation of
“Truth in Sentencing” laws in 1995.


SB 825 New sentencing hearing; abolition of parole.
Introduced by: Jennifer T. Wexton | all patrons    ...    notes | add to my profiles
New sentencing hearing; abolition of parole. Provides that a person who was sentenced by a jury prior to the date of the Supreme Court of Virginia decision in Fishback v. Commonwealth, 260 Va. 104 (June 9, 2000), in which the Court held that a jury should be instructed on the fact that parole has been abolished, for a noncapital felony committed prior to the time that the abolition of parole went into effect (January 1, 1995) is entitled to a new sentencing proceeding if such person is still incarcerated. The bill provides that such person shall file a petition for a new sentencing proceeding with the Court of Appeals, which shall direct the circuit court in which the order of conviction was originally entered to empanel a new jury for the purpose of conducting the new sentencing proceeding and notify the appropriate attorney for the Commonwealth. The bill also provides that if the attorney for the Commonwealth and the person filing the petition agree, such person may waive his right to a new sentencing proceeding and allow the court to fix punishment.

Bill Status
11/09/16  Senate: Prefiled and ordered printed; offered 01/11/17 17100601D
11/09/16  Senate: Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice

Click Link to View Bill: 

Click Link to Show Support for Change. Online Petition: 

Click below to contact Senators & meeting schedules, on the "Committee for Courts of Justice":
Obenshain (Chairman), Saslaw, Norment, Howell, Lucas, Edwards, McDougle, McEachin, Stuart, Stanley, Reeves, Garrett, Chafin, Deeds, Sturtevant

Legislative Contacts and Self Help Informational (Click on link)

Virginia Civil Rights Groups
Calls for Overhaul of Virginia’s Justice System
“Mobile Justice Tour”
 Voting Rights Restoration, “Ban the Box” Fair Hiring Policies, and Sentencing Reform 
               Since April, 2013
Led by the Mobile Justice Tour founder, Lillie Branch-Kennedy of Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged (RIHD), with its coalition partners Richard Walker of Bridging the Gap and Quan Williams of New Virginia Majority and national support from Community Center for Change, Justice Policy Initiative and Advancement Project, in planning, preparing, and raising awareness around justice issues that affect people with criminal records and providing direct services to so many people unaware of laws and policies that can empower them. With a focus on three key issues: civil rights restoration for citizens with felony convictions, removing questions about an applicant’s criminal background from initial employment forms, and sentencing reform to end mass incarceration in Virginia.
Two years later after four (4) tours, 47 community events, the Mobile Justice Tour (MJT) has contributed to the new process for automatic voting rights restoration, to the statewide momentum toward ‘ban the box’ employment application reform.  we found so many people were simply unaware of laws and policies that can empower themfolks had no idea about available alternatives for changing their lives.
The MJT continues, to empower ordinary citizens – college students, members of church groups and other individuals across Virginia,  providing  information and we look forward to hitting the road again Spring, 2017.
Sentencing Reforms
RIHD/MJT Sentencing Reforms, “The need for sentencing reform and established of remedies to correct injustices of the past led to Virginia Parole Commission to recommend and adopt retroactivity sentencing reform (RIHD Position Paper), regarding “five years unfair jury trials” (Fishback vs Commonwealth VA), helping to eliminate disparities and achieve consistency and fairness within Virginia's criminal justice system. 
.      “Ban the Box”
Removing the question about an individual’s criminal history from the initial employment application continues:  Since the first Mobile Justice Tour,
22 Virginia municipalities have passed fair-chance hiring regulations for persons with a record,  Executive Order 44 (state level) and most recently.  On November 2, President Obama announced  measures to help promote rehabilitation and reintegration for persons with a record.
RIHD congratulate them all, however, our work is not complete, requiring additional work that reduce barriers and correct injustices.


With over 300,000 disenfranchised Virginians with felony conviction, there
are two ways to get their rights back, depending on whether one’s conviction
is classified as “nonviolent” or “violent.”  MJT partner Bridging the Gap in Virginia continues his “campaign to restore “100,000” individual’s rights prior to the end of the current Governor’s administration (a non-partisan initiative).  Throughout RIHD MJT events, Bridging
the Gap shall continue to explain, answer questions, provide updates, process forms as well as discuss recommendations for further streamlining for automatically restoring ones right policies legislatively through  Constitutional Amendment process. To date our partner Richard Walker, President of Bridging the Gap in Virginia has assisted more Virginians in
the process.