McClellan/Bourne Criminal Justice Reform Legislation Passes General Assembly

Bills Would Allow Courts to Consider Mental Illness, Autism, and Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities in Criminal Proceedings

Final Bills Now Move to Governor’s Desk for Signature

RICHMOND – Today, Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Delegate Jeff Bourne’s (D-Richmond) bills SB 1315 and HB 2047 passed the General Assembly veto session. The bills incorporated amendments from Governor Ralph Northam, and will now head back to his desk. Once signed, the legislation will reform the criminal justice system for individuals with mental illness, autism, and intellectual/developmental disabilities. 

The bills will:

  • End a 1980s law that bans defendants from introducing evidence about their mental illness, autism, or intellectual/developmental disabilities, including 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.

“For too long, our criminal justice system has disproportionately punished Virginians with mental health conditions, autism, and intellectual or developmental disabilities,” Sen. McClellan said. “With this legislation, defendants with these conditions will finally be able to have their full story considered in court. This is one of the most significant changes to Virginia’s justice system in recent years. I thank Del. Bourne and all of the advocates who were instrumental in passing SB 1315 and HB 2047 as we continue fighting for a fairer justice system for all Virginians.”

“This piece of legislation is crucial in ensuring that those with mental health conditions and intellectual and developmental disabilities are able to tell their full stories in the courtroom,” said Delegate Jeff Bourne. “The passage of this legislation marks a significant change in Virginia’s justice system and is an important first step in decriminalizing mental illness.  I am grateful to Senator McClellan and all of the advocates who worked tirelessly on this legislation.”

“Punishment is only just when it reflects the true moral culpability of the person being punished,” said Brad Haywood, Executive Director for Justice Forward Virginia. “For decades, Virginia law barred persons with serious mental illness and intellectual disabilities from explaining how their condition affected their conduct. This change was long overdue. We thank the bill sponsors for fighting so hard to make Virginia’s criminal legal system more fair and humane.


“Partner for Mental Health and Mental Health America of Virginia are thrilled by the passage of this legislation,” said Anna Mendez, Executive Director, Partner for Mental Health. “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. 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.”


“I would like to thank Senator McClellan and Delegate Bourne for championing this monumental criminal justice reform legislation,” said Brian Kelmar, Chairman and cofounder of Legal Reform for Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled (LRIDD). “This legislation puts Virginia at the forefront in the nation for fair and equitable justice for our most vulnerable population of those with mental illness, intellectually or developmentally disables(I/DD), such as autism. LRIDD has worked with families here in Virginia and across the country and has recognized that intellectual and developmental disabilities are overlooked in the criminal justice system.  I/DD  is often confused with being a mental health issue instead of a disability. Virginia is one of the first in the nation to recognize this disability in the criminal justice system and LRIDD intends to use this reform legislation as a model to be used in every state throughout the country for those with I/DD .”