Virginia Special Session Legislative Update: Two sweeping changes to criminal law in the Commonwealth

This past week, the General Assembly wrapped up the special session that began in August. This special session focused on police reform and responses to the COVID 19 crisis. The General Assembly made two sweeping reforms to the criminal justice system during this special session

The first was to eliminate the ability for police officers to search premises or vehicles based on the odor of marijuana.  Under current law, even though it is decriminalized, the police can still search a vehicle based on the odor of marijuana. Beginning in March of 2021, police are no longer able to use the odor of marijuana as a sole basis to search. Within this bill, the general assembly made it illegal for officers to stop citizens for most equipment violations unless there is another basis for the stop.

The second reform was to eliminate jury sentencing in Virginia. For the past 200 plus years, when a defendant had a jury trial, the jury not only determined guilt or innocence, but also the sentence. Virginia was one of only six states to use this process. Starting in July of 2021, defendants will be able to chose whether a judge or the jury will sentence them after the jury determines their guilt or innocence.

With these unprecedented reforms to the criminal law in Virginia, many questions can arise as to how this affects current cases and defendants rights. If you have a case that could be affected by these new laws, call the criminal attorneys at Winslow & McCurry at (804)423.1382.  Would would like to help.