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COLUMN — Democrats want to abolish mandatory minimum sentencing

Last Wednesday, House Democrats had their second hearing on criminal justice reform.

The testimony by speakers invited by House Democrats should concern any Virginian who values public safety.

The horror in this meeting started early and it did not stop.  Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran came out and said that the release of a significant number of murderers by the parole board, including a cop killer, was defensible.  According to Secretary Moran, 581 felons have been released from jail early due to COVID-19.

Secretary Moran is still coming to the full defense of the parole board while they are under investigation by the Office of the State Inspector General.  The investigation is due to the release of Vincent Martin, who was convicted in 1979 of killing Richmond Police Officer Michael Connors.  The parole board failed to contact the victim’s family about his release.  When the report of the investigation reached the House and Senate, the entire report was redacted — indicating something is amiss at the Virginia Parole Board.

The meeting was all downhill from there.

House Democrat witnesses railed against the unfairness of all mandatory minimum sentences.  While several other Republicans and I asked to speak numerous times during the meeting, we were never allowed to speak or ask any questions. In fact, I believe only three Republicans were allowed to ask questions during the entire meeting.

One Republican delegate asked Ashley Nellis of the Sentencing Project if these mandatory sentences should be eliminated for heinous crimes such as the rape of a child or attacking a teacher with a weapon.

“That is my position,” she said.

Another Republican delegate asked a follow-up question about a case in California where a young man was convicted of three counts of sexual assault.  He asked about the mandatory minimum sentence in that case, where the young man served only 30 days in jail.

Ms. Nellis responded by saying, “Judges usually get it right……. I don’t know if I would say that judge got it right, but I would say, by and large judges do get it right.  In that case, that particular person, a lot of people with a sex offense conviction would do a lot better with way more rehabilitative response to their crime than incapacitative. I think there has to be both.  We cannot have serial rapists running around, but we also have to treat them.  Most people convicted of a serious sexual assault and crime are not a serial rapist. They themselves were victims first.”

I believe rapists belong behind bars, and they need to stay there for a long period of time.

Other witnesses the Democrats had on hand for the meeting denounced probation, calling instead for the reinstatement of parole.

House Republicans were able to invite witnesses, including widows of law enforcement officers who testified that it would be an insult to the memory of their husbands to defelonize attacks on law enforcement as Democrats have proposed.

House Republicans also invited a witness from RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, who provided some truly sobering information about child abuse, particularly the child abuse done in the creation of child pornography.  And even though she talked about the horrible things done to children, the Democrats still want to end mandatory minimum sentences for these criminals.

Our system is not perfect, but as of 2018, the latest year stats are provided, we have one of the lowest crime rates in the nation and we have the lowest rate of recidivism.

I want to go back and touch on a subject from last week’s column about House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn removing a number of Confederate busts along with the Robert E. Lee statue from the Old House Chamber.

Even liberal newspapers, such as The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press, had editorials last week denouncing these actions. They got it exactly right when they stated the following in their editorial:

“The Old House Chamber is a time capsule of Virginia history. It’s where lawmakers voted to secede from the Union in 1861, where Lee accepted command of Confederate forces and where the Confederate Congress met while Richmond served as the capitol of the insurrection.

“It’s generally been described as a museum for visitors, which is a fair assessment of the place. The items and figures depicted there are indelible parts of the commonwealth’s story, and Virginians need not be proud of that past to understand the value of preserving our history.”

These actions made in the dark of night by Speaker Filler-Corn and her Democrat counterparts are just the latest move to create divisiveness in Virginia.

Del. Tommy Wright can be reached via email at DelTWright@house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.