By Brandon Jarvis

Richmond, Va (VS) – The Senate Judiciary Committee met on Tuesday in Richmond to debate several criminal justice reform bills during the special session of the General Assembly.

The first bill, SB 5014 would require all law-enforcement officers to complete crisis intervention team (CIT) training as part of the compulsory training standards. Advanced training would be provided to a CIT team, but methods as simple as first aid training would be provided to officers not on CIT teams, according to the counsel for the bill.

SB 5014 passed unanimously.

Next the committee debated SB 5007, which would allow a person to request the judge sentence them after a guilty verdict, instead of the jury. Virginia is only one-of-six states that do not allow this already.

The bill also originally stated that if the jury could not agree on a punishment, then a mistrial would be declared and the trial would take place again. Sen. Bill Stanley (R) pushed back on this with Sen. Chap Peterson (D) supporting him in asking that instead of a mistrial, the sentencing be placed in the judge’s hands. The Committee eventually made the change to the bill, with the bill’s sponsor Senator Joe Morrissey supporting the change.

Republican Senate Leader Tommy Norment spoke out against this bill, “Just because you speak loudly and passionately doesn’t make it a good concept,” Norment said directed at Morrissey.

Dr. Zoe Spencer, a professor in criminal justice at Virginia State University said she supports the bill will enhance a defendant’s rights to reduce misrepresentations among citizens and that it will be a big contribution to the anti-racism initiative.

The bill passed the Judiciary Committee on a 9-4 vote and was referred to the Finance Committee.

Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D) presented a bill allowing localities to establish civilian review boards. Under current law, according to Sen. Hashmi, there is a limit on the power of civilian review boards by giving police departments a lot of control over the information released to the board.

One public speaker that is a supporter of this bill stressed the importance of this bill be enabling, instead of a “top-down mandate”. The speaker noted that she believes this review board must be community-driven to be successful.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, a Richmond activist spoke about her support of the bill and the process by which Sen. Ghazala Hashmi created this bill. “I support how this bill came about by working with community members,” said Wise. “We must grant [localities] with the full power of subpoenas, audits, and reviews”.

Princess Blanding, the sister of Marcus-David Peters spoke to the committee and stressed the importance of the language of the bill. Blanding said the current bill that makes this bill enabling, and not a mandate disturbs her and she asked the committee to fix it now. “Not tomorrow, not in 2021, and not now,” said Blanding.

The civilian review board bill passed the Judiciary Committee on a 8-6 vote.

The committee took up a bill that would establish a crisis response team that would respond alongside police officers to an individual suffering a mental health crisis. Known in Richmond as a “Marcus Alert”, named after Marcus-David Peters, a man who was unarmed and experiencing a mental health crisis when a Richmond Police officer shot and killed him in 2018.

The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, where they will make the final decision on making this bill a mandate across Virginia, or not. “The Marcus Alert system will never bring my brother Marcus David Peters back,” said Blanding. She noted, however, that is should help people moving forward.

This post will continue to be updated as the Judiciary Committee is still in session.


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