HOPEWELL, VA (WWBT) - In a move to help keep drugs and those who sell them off the streets, Hopewell is shifting it's policy when it comes to prosecuting repeat drug offenders.
The commonwealth's attorney says he will no longer consent to a trial by judge if the defendant is someone with multiple prior convictions for distribution or possession of drugs.
"We're going to demand a jury trial - the only other alternative they'd have other than a jury trial is to plead guilty," said Rick Newman, Hopewell Commonwealth's Attorney.
Newman says a jury is more likely to convict and impose a tougher sentence than a judge.
"A judge can suspend a sentence. A jury can not, so a jury therefore has to give a longer sentence," said Newman.
Residents appear to have mixed feelings on the issue.
Some worry about the price tag involved with a jury trial -- a cost that's passed on to the state if the defendant is found not guilty or can't afford the cost of a jury trial. But others like Lorraine Cooke support the shift in policy.
She says it's not uncommon to see drug dealers hanging on the streets and in parks pushing their poison.
"I think it's a big problem and I think it should be cleared up," said Cooke.
Cooke knows first hand. She's a former drug user who purchased drugs in Hopewell for eight years before cleaning up her act.
"I was spending thousands of dollars on drugs," said Cooke.
Newman says moving forward with this policy will give citizens a voice while helping to wipe out drugs and other criminal activity in the city.