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Video Discussion: Virginia’s New Jury Trial Sentencing Law

On Behalf of | Oct 28, 2020 | Criminal Law

In the twenty-sixth episode of our firm’s video web series, which can be viewed below, firm owner John P. Fishwick, Jr., associate attorney Daniel J. Martin, and firm investigator Isaac Van Patten discuss a groundbreaking change in Virginia criminal law – sentences imposed by judges! Many people are often surprised by the fact that in Virginia, if a defendant elects to be tried by a jury for their crime, the defendant must also accept a punishment decided by the jury. Only one other state, Kentucky, has such a rule! But a newly passed law will make it so, starting July 1, 2021, a defendant will be sentenced by a judge unless they specifically consent to being sentenced by a jury.

Specifically, the law amends several sections of the Virginia Code, most prominently, § 19.2-295, entitled, “Ascertainment of punishment.” Once the new law goes into effect, it will provide:

Within the limits prescribed by law, the court shall ascertain the term of confinement in the state correctional facility or in jail and the amount of fine, if any, when a person is convicted of a criminal offense unless the accused is tried by a jury and has requested that the jury ascertain punishment. Such request for a jury to ascertain punishment shall be filed as a written pleading with the court at least 30 days prior to trial.

This is an impactful change, as juries, without the benefit of sentencing guidelines, have been known to impose a wide range of sentences for similar defendants and similar offenses. Hopefully, this change of law will bring about more uniform and fairer criminal penalties throughout the Commonwealth.

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