Northam Signs McClellan-Bourne Law to Reform the Criminal Justice System for Virginians with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities, Autism, and Mental Health Conditions

New Law  Allows Evidence of Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities, Autism and Mental Health Conditions in Criminal Cases

Law also Requires More Training for Court-Appointed Attorneys

RICHMOND, Va. –  Today, Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) attended the ceremonial signing of their bills (SB 1315 and HB 2047) improving how Virginia’s criminal justice system addresses cases involving individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities, autism, and mental health conditions. The law went into effect on July 1.

The new law will:

  • End a 1980s ban on defendants introducing evidence about an intellectual/developmental disability, autism, or mental health condition if it is relevant to 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 far too long, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism, and mental illness have been left behind and overlooked by our criminal justice system,” Senator McClellan said. “Today, Virginia reforms its criminal justice system to stop the criminalization of individuals with these conditions. This bill addresses the unique challenges of mental illness, autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities and reforms our criminal justice system to be fairer for all Virginians.” 

“When we set out to begin reforming criminal justice this past session it meant that we needed to reform it for everyone. Today we’re proud this important legislation has been signed because it means we have rectified a law that has been overlooked for far too long,” said Delegate Bourne. “Mental health is a critical issue in our nation and Commonwealth, and taking individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism, and mental illness into account in our courts is vital to continue the fight to reform our justice system.”

“Senator McClellan and Delegate Bourne are the champions for justice and equality under the law for those with intellectual /developmental disabilities and mental illness,” said Brian Kelmar, Executive Director of Legal Reform for the Intellectually & Developmentally Disabled. “They have spearheaded my vision for change, making this a reality – a historical event in the signing of this legislation into law by Governor Northam. This is a momentous occasion, not only for myself, personally, but the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“Today Virginia took an incredible step to ensure that all defendants are provided every opportunity for fairness and justice in the court system,” said Tonya Milling, Executive Director, The Arc of Virginia. “We are grateful to Senator McClellan, Delegate Bourne and to Governor Northam for moving Virginia forward.”