Fix Sentencing Disparities in VA (Governor Executive Order)

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe

Jury deliberations are weighty and complex, making it vital participants be able to factor in all the relevant information. Yet, for five years, juries in Virginia imposed heavy-handed sentences without knowing the state had decided to abolish its parole system.

In cases where juries inquired as to whether a defendant might one day be eligible for parole --- judges replied that, because of a legal restrictions, they weren’t allowed to answer.

Looking back, jurors who served during this period (1995 to 2000) have said they would have imposed shorter, fairer sentences, had they known parole release wasn’t being offered to prisoners, anymore.

Governor Terry McAuliffe has the power to fix this mistake by signing an executive order granting resentencing proceedings to the affected parties. We’ve waited long enough. The time to act is now.

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Richmond, VA

To: Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe
From: [Your Name]

I urge you to sign an Executive Order that will grant resentencing proceedings to those who were sentenced by juries that were not instructed that parole was abolished in Virginia. By the terms of legislation introduced in 2016, “such person may waive his right to a new sentencing proceeding and allow the court to fix punishment.”

Between 1995 and 2000, juries were imposing sentences without knowing that Virginia abolished parole in 1995. They were not informed even in cases when juries asked if there was parole. Jurors had to make important decisions without having all the pertinent information. This created sentencing disparities. Some jurors have publicly stated they would have imposed shorter sentences had they known parole was abolished.

On June 9, 2000, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in Fishback v. Commonwealth that judges must instruct jurors that parole has been abolished, stating that it “simply defies reason” not to give jurors the information. However, its ruling did not apply to sentences already imposed.

Nearly 500 people received sentences of more than 20 years between January 1, 1995 and June 9, 2000. According to the Director of the Virginia Sentencing Commission, they are likely still incarcerated. We need an Executive Order that would grant them an opportunity to be resentenced by a fully informed jury.

Allowing those injured by it the chance to be eligible for parole will not fix the problem for all affected defendants. This is clear with the case of Daniel Richard Ford III #1099437, who, despite getting a pretrial sentencing recommendation of 6 and a half years, was instead sentenced in 1999 by a jury to 305 years for a nonviolent drug offense, now commuted to 40 years. Being put up for parole now would have no effect on this wildly inappropriate sentence.

The government made a mistake 20 years ago and you have the opportunity to be a part of fixing it. We cannot delay any longer. The time to act is now. I urge you to sign an Executive Order that will rectify these injustices.