Do minimum sentences protect victims of domestic violence?

Published: May. 17, 2019 at 11:32 AM EDT
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Around the same time that Gov. Ralph Northam dedicated the month of May to conversations about criminal justice reform, he vetoed a bill that would have required minimum sentencing for people charged with domestic violence crimes for the second time.

Dels. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax, and Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, co-sponsored a bill that would have required 60 days of jail time for someone who is convicted of an act of domestic violence within 10 years of being convicted of assault and battery against a family member.

Existing law says a person who commits assault and battery on a family member three times in 20 years would be guilty of the lowest-level felony charge in the state, punishable by up to one to five years in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Northam vetoed Murphy and Gilbert’s bill, saying legislation that creates minimum mandatory sentencing targets people of color. But data from the state shows in the case of domestic violence, punishment is handed down almost evenly among races when it’s handed down at all.


The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.