Virginia Senate Democrats have published a list of 28 proposals for reforming the Commonwealth’s police and criminal justice systems, including a measure to downgrade the charge of assault on a law enforcement officer to a misdemeanor offense instead of a felony.

Under current law, anyone who is convicted of assaulting a law enforcement officer is guilty of a Class 6 felony and is subject to a mandatory minimum term of confinement of six months, according to Virginia code.

This same penalty applies to anyone who assaults a person they know, or have reason to know, is a judge, magistrate, prison guard, firefighter or some other criminal justice administrator or first responder.

State Sen. Scott Surovell (36th District), chair of the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus’s ad hoc subcommittee on police reform and criminal justice, explained the defelonization proposed in a column published by Fort Hunt Herald on July 1: “In 1997, our legislature made assault on a law enforcement officer a felony. This means that touching a police officer without the officer’s consent can result in felony charges. I have seen people charged with this for slapping an officer’s wrist as the officer hands over a speeding ticket or bumping into an officer and walking away from a vehicle. Officers often use this charge when an officer’s misconduct could be alleged. We need to return this to a misdemeanor offense as it was for 200 years. Serious injuries can always be charged as felonies.”

The proposed reforms would also require officers to warn suspects before opening fire, the Fort Hunt Herald reports.

The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus’ list of proposed reforms includes:

  • Prohibit No Knock Warrants (Breonna Taylor)
  • Ban Sex With Individuals Arrested by Law Enforcement*
  • Prohibit Hiring of Officers Fired or Resigned During Use of Force Investigations
  • Create a Decertification Procedure for Law Enforcement Officers*
  • Ban chokeholds and strangleholds (George Floyd)
  • Require Attempts at De-escalation Prior to Use of Force
  • Require Warnings Before Shots Fired
  • Require Law Enforcement to Exhaust All Other Means Prior to Shooting
  • Create Duty to Intervene by Fellow Law Enforcement Officers
  • Prohibit Shooting at Moving Motor Vehicles
  • Require Departments to Create a Use of Force Continuum
  • Require Comprehensive Reporting by All Law Enforcement Agencies Including Use of Force Data
  • Defelonize Assault on Law Enforcement Officer (Return to Misdemeanor Offense)
  • Cancel HB599 Funding (Virginia supplemental funding for local police departments) After Local Police Have Disproportionate Use of Force Incidents in their Jurisdiction
  • Create Local Authority for a Marcus Alert System – System to Report Acute Mental Health Crises
  • Create Local Option for Citizen Review Board Empowered to Investigate, Fire and/or Discipline Officers
  • Confirm Prosecutors’ Authority to Drop Charges*
  • Enhance Courts’ Ability to Expunge Charges for Dismissed Charges, Substance Convictions and Pardoned Offenses*
  • Prohibit Searches of Person or Vehicle Based on Odor of Marijuana Without Probable Cause for Other Offenses*
  • Prohibit Stops for Equipment Violations Not Covered by State Vehicle Inspection
  • Secondary Offense For Dangling Objects, Extinguished Tag Light, Tinted Windows or Loud Exhaust
  • Jury Sentencing Only at Option of the Accused*
  • Eliminate Commonwealth’s Right to Demand Jury Trial When Jury Trials Suspended for State of Emergency*
  • Require Agencies to Determine Cost Savings for Introduced Criminal Justice Legislation
  • Allow Earned Sentence Credit for Good Behavior During Prison*
  • Create Discretion for Compassionate Release for Terminally Ill or Permanently Disabled Prisoners*
  • Virginia Rental Assistance Fund for Families Economically Impacted by COVID
  • Require and Reimburse Localities for Postage Prepaid Envelopes for Absentee Voting*

*Represents legislation introduced in prior sessions

The Senate Democrats’ measures would need to be considered and passed by the Democratic Party-controlled House of Delegates and signed by the Democrat Governor Ralph Northam to become law.

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