After 200 years, Virginia to let judges decide sentences

Virginia News

File this Thursday March 21, 2020 file photo shows Virginia State Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, gestures during a news conference in his office at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. Morrissey, sponsored legislation that was approved by the General Assembly last week that will turn over sentencing of criminal defendants to judges instead of juries, beginning in July 2021. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — For the first time in more than 200 years, criminal defendants in Virginia will have the option to be sentenced by judges instead of juries.

A bill recently passed by the legislature brings Virginia in line with the vast majority of other U.S. states. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign the measure soon.

The proposal sparked fierce debate during a special legislative session focused on criminal justice and police reform.

Supporters of the change said giving judges the sentencing responsibility will result in fairer sentences.

But prosecutors predicted it will result in more jury trials and require additional judges, court clerks and public defenders.

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