Thursday, December 7, 2023

New Law Reforms Virginia’s Criminal Justice System in Cases Involving Mental Conditions and Disabilities

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)
SB 1315 and HB 2047 create several changes in the state justice system that take mental health, autism, and intellectual/developmental disabilities into consideration during bail and sentencing stages, among other changes. (WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)

STATEWIDE –As of July 1, the way Virginia’s criminal justice system addresses cases involving individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and various mental health conditions will never be the same, thanks to a new law.

Sponsored by Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) through bills SB 1315 and HB 2047, The new law has made several changes in the way cases are addressed. These changes include ending a 1980s-era ban on defendants introducing evidence about an intellectual/developmental disability, Autism, or mental health conditions if it is relevant to the person’s state at the time of the alleged offense.

Judges will also be required to consider such conditions at the bail and sentencing stages. The law also adds training for court-appointed lawyers to help them better understand the unique considerations of representing people with certain diagnoses and conditions.

“For far too long, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism, and mental illness have been left behind and overlooked by our criminal justice system,” Senator McClellan said in a July 7 news release from the Offices of Senator Jennifer McClellan & Delegate Jeff Bourne.

On Wednesday, July 7, McClellan and Bourne attended a ceremonial signing of the bills. According to the news release, McClellan said, “This bill addresses the unique challenges of mental illness, autism and intelle7ctual and developmental disabilities and reforms our criminal justice system to be fairer for all Virginians.”

“When we set out to begin reforming criminal justice this past session it meant that we needed to reform it for everyone,” said Delegate Bourne in a released statement. “Mental health is a critical issue in our nation and Commonwealth, and taking individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism, and mental illness into account in our courts is vital to continue the fight to reform our justice system.”

To find out more about the new law, click here.

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