Bills Would Allow Courts to Consider Mental Illness, Autism or Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities in Criminal Proceedings
RICHMOND, VA – Today the General Assembly passed Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) bills SB 1315 and HB 2047 to reform the criminal justice system for individuals with mental illness, autism and intellectual/developmental disabilities. Both bills now head to Governor Northam’s desk.
The bills will:
- End a 1980s law that bans defendants from introducing evidence about their mental illness, autism, or intellectual/developmental disability and how it may have impacted their mental state at the time of the alleged offense;
- Require a judge to consider such conditions at bail and sentencing stages; and
- Add training for court-appointed lawyers to help them understand the unique considerations of representing people with such conditions.
“Individuals with mental illness, autism, and intellectual and developmental disabilities are some of the most vulnerable in our criminal justice system,” Sen. McClellan said. “SB 1315 will modernize our criminal justice process to more fairly address Virginians with these conditions. I applaud the advocates who worked with us to pass this transformative criminal justice reform measure that has such strong bipartisan support from Virginia voters. This is a giant leap forward in decriminalizing mental health conditions.”
“With this legislation, people with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities will be able to share their full stories in the courtroom. Criminal justice reform must center the lived experiences of those who have been unduly targeted by the system, and Virginia has been over-incarcerating individuals with these conditions for too long. The passage of these bills is an important step toward decriminalizing mental illness and ensuring that those involved in our justice system receive fair trials,” said Del. Bourne. “I want to thank Senator McClellan and the advocates who worked tirelessly to get this legislation passed. I am proud to be a part of this important piece of criminal justice reform.”
A recent poll from Data for Progress shows that 66% of Virginia voters support allowing Virginia judges and juries to consider evidence about a defendant’s mental state and mental illness in a criminal trial. The Data For Progress poll shows that the support for the policy remains strong across party lines – with more than 60% of Democrats, Republicans and Independents each supporting McClellan and Bourne’s reform bills.
“It was an honor to work with Sen. McClellan, Del. Bourne, their staff and a host of advocates to develop and pass this important bill,” said Kyle McGoey, UVA law school student from Professor Andrew Block’s State and Local Government Policy Clinic, which was instrumental in helping draft and research the legislation. “These updates to Virginia’s criminal code will empower our justice system to account for the realities of mental illness and disability, and will help to ensure fairness and due process for all Virginians.”
“Partner for Mental Health and Mental Health America of Virginia are thrilled by the passage of this legislation. Criminal justice reform must include the decriminalization of mental illness, and permitting introduction of evidence pertaining to a defendant’s mental state during the fact finding portion of trial, as this bill facilitates, is an important step toward building a more just system of criminal adjudication,” said Anna Mendez, Executive Director at Partner for Mental Health. “We are grateful for the opportunity to work with Senator McClellan and Delegate Bourne to make sure the legislation extended this rule of evidence to Virginians with mental illness, and look forward to future opportunities to support their continued efforts at decriminalizing the experience of mental illness in our Commonwealth.”
“It was my absolute pleasure to support SB1315. This Bill is long overdue and will have a huge impact on those with Autism & Intellectual Disabilities. Now their diagnosis will be considered throughout the entire judicial process, which is extremely important,” said Pam Mines, Special Needs Advocate and mom who initiated SB367 — also known as “JP’s Law” — in Virginia in 2014. “This Bill wouldn’t be as beneficial without the addition added to give court appointed attorney’s training on how to defend these individuals fairly and effectively. Thank you to Delegate Bourne and Senator McClellan for standing up and supporting this oftentimes overlooked community; and giving attorneys continued education about the citizens they serve with these diagnoses.”
“Today Virginia took an incredible step to ensure that defendants with intellectual and developmental disabilities are provided every opportunity for fairness and justice in the court system by recognizing the impact that their disability might have on their interaction with the justice system,” said Kim Goodloe, President of The Arc of Virginia. “ We are grateful to Senator McClellan, Delegate Bourne and to all of the legislators who moved Virginia forward today.”