‘Second Look’ bill would allow incarcerated to petition for resentencing

Published 12:15 pm Thursday, February 17, 2022

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By Safia Abdulahi

Capital News Service

Several people pardoned for past crimes recently advocated in favor of legislation known as the “Second Look” bill.

Senate Bill 378, introduced by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, would allow the incarcerated an opportunity to petition the court for resentencing under certain qualifications. Del. Carrie E. Coyner, R-Chesterfield, proposed the companion bill. Neither lawmaker responded to requests for an interview.

Individuals who committed a crime at age 25 or younger and have served for 10 years could petition the court for a modified sentence. A person over the age of 26 at the time of the crime could petition the court if 15 years of the sentence was served. The incarcerated would need a record of good behavior to qualify. There would be a 90- day process to get back in front of a sentencing judge. The commonwealth and victims would be notified.

The legislation is similar to a 2019 policy in Washington. The D.C law allows for people who were incarcerated before their 18th birthday to petition the court for resentencing.

“We really are hopeful that this will move forward and come out of both chambers of the General Assembly,” said Shawn Weneta, policy and advocacy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

The ACLU of Virginia worked with a coalition of criminal justice reform advocates and also consulted with the Second Look Project in Washington and its executive director James Ziglar.

“They were very helpful when we were working on putting this bill together,” Weneta said.

Most Virginia inmates are required to serve at least 85% of their sentence before they petition for early release.

“The reason judges are citing for turning down those petitions is because of the person’s conduct while they’re incarcerated because we’ve had institutional infractions,” Weneta said. “We wanted to put a guardrail on there to make sure that the person really earned the opportunity to have their sentence reviewed.”

Angel Reyes DeJesus was one of several previous inmates who testified last week. He said he was sentenced as a juvenile for first-degree murder. He served 27 years before former Gov. Ralph Northam pardoned him. DeJesus told the Senate panel last week that he never thought he would make it home. He said he served 22 years of his sentence infraction-free.

Nate Green, commonwealth attorney for Williamsburg-James City County, said he was there on behalf of victims. He said the sentences could include some of “the most egregious crimes that our communities have faced.”

Green called the bill “anti-victim.” He said people will have to face their perpetrators again.

“This is a bill that would make these individuals relive these horrors when we promised them that it would be done,” Green said.

Over 4,000 people are serving life sentences in Virginia, about 1 in 7 of the state’s prison population, according to the ACLU. Extreme sentencing disproportionately impacts Black people more than any other race, according to the ACLU.

“If you can trust the court to give the sentence, you can trust the court to review the sentence,” Ben Knotts, legislative liaison with Americans for Prosperity, told the Senate panel.

Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, proposed a similar bill in the 2021 session. However, the bill was tied 4-4 in a subcommittee vote and did not pass.

The Senate Judiciary committee advanced the Senate bill on a party line vote Monday and referred it to the finance committee. The House bill remains in committee.