Virginia Bill That Could Lead to Early Prison Release for Marijuana Felons Passes Senate 20 to 19

Virginia’s Senate has narrowly passed a bill that could lead to those in prison for marijuana-related felonies to be released early.

The Senate voted 20 to 19 today to pass Senate Bill 696, filed by Senators Angelia Williams Graves, Jennifer Boysko and Saddam Salim.

“This bill creates a process by which persons convicted of certain felony marijuana-related offenses involving the possession, manufacture, selling, giving, distribution, transportation, or delivery of marijuana committed prior to July 1, 2021, who remain incarcerated or on community supervision on July 1, 2024, must receive an automatic hearing to consider modification of such person’s sentence”, states the measure’s official summary. “The bill sets January 1, 2025, as the deadline by which such hearings must be scheduled.”

The measure “allows those eligible for modification of sentence under the proposed legislation to petition for the assistance of counsel and a statement of indigency with the court, and it “provides that, if such person was found to be indigent at his original sentencing, he is entitled to assistance of counsel for the hearing on modification of his sentence without the filing of such petition and that no fee can be charged.”

The bill directs the court “to consider that marijuana has been legalized and to reduce, including a reduction to time served, vacate, or otherwise modify the person’s sentence, including removing such person from community supervision, unless the Commonwealth demonstrates it would not be compatible with the public interest to do so. Any modification of sentence may not exceed the original term imposed by the court.”

The measure requires the circuit court to make a decision on modifying a sentence within 30 days following the sentence modification hearing. If modification of a sentence is denied, the court must file with the record of the case a written explanation for the denial and must provide a copy of such written explanation to the person whose sentence was considered for modification, his attorney if he is represented, and to the attorney for the Commonwealth.

The bill contains an enactment clause requiring that, on or before September 1, 2024, “the Department of Corrections, sheriff of a local jail, regional director of a regional jail, and the Department of Juvenile Justice, must determine which individuals currently incarcerated in such state correctional facility, local correctional facility, or secure facility, or placed on community supervision, respectively, meet the criteria for a hearing on the modification of sentence as set forth in proposed legislation, and must (i) provide an electronic list of such individuals to the clerk of each circuit court in the jurisdiction where the individual was sentenced and (ii) notify all such individuals that they may be eligible for modification of their sentence, a hearing will be scheduled for such determination, and that they may file a petition for assistance of counsel and a statement of indigency.”

The measure has been sent to the House of Delegates for consideration.

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