Today, the ACLU of Virginia sent a letter to Governor Ralph Northam urging him to reconsider the so-called bipartisan deal to raise the felony larceny threshold and collect restitution for crime victims. The letter noted that these are two separate and independent measures that are only connected in concept by the "deal" and addressed each issue accordingly.
Felony Larceny Threshold
The ACLU of Virginia agrees that the current felony larceny threshold of $200, the lowest in the nation, should be raised. However, we don't agree that an increase to $500 will address the underlying and historical inequity of current law.
"For starters, the increase to $500 included in the "compromise" you struck with House Republicans wouldn't even keep up with the past 38 years of inflation," stated the letter. "$500 in 1980 dollars is $168 dollars so we’re actually going backward from the 1980 $200 threshold rather than forward. Moreover, $500 is well below the threshold in our neighboring jurisdictions of Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and D.C., all of which have thresholds of $1,000."
"The low threshold needlessly felonizes countless Virginians each year, and has a disproportionate impact on women and people of color. It is urgent that the threshold be raised. Nonetheless, because it could theoretically be another 38 years before our leaders get serious about addressing this problem again, a baby step that actually is a step backward does almost nothing to address this problem."
The ACLU of Virginia urged the Governor to keep his campaign promise and recommend to the legislature an amendment to HB 1550 and SB 105 to raise the felony larceny threshold to a minimum of $1,000.
The ACLU of Virginia agrees that crime victims should get back their money, but not through the probation system and additional penalties that would turn probation officers into collection agents for civil debts, which HB 484 and SB 994 regarding repayment of restitution to crime victims will do.
"Last year, Governor McAuliffe vetoed a similar restitution bill because it required that an individual who owes restitution be placed on an indefinite period of probation, until all restitution was paid," stated the letter. "We know that the language of this year’s bills is different from the exact language of last year’s proposal. Nonetheless, what hasn’t changed is that the new proposed scheme, like last year’s bill, still allows the court the discretion to impose prolonged, indefinite probation for nonpayment of restitution. In addition, it allows courts to modify sentences previously suspended and invoke contempt charges repeatedly over a 10 year period to put people in jail for 60 days. Finally, it ties restitution explicitly to probation and engages probation officers in monitoring restitution payments."
The letter also explained how this new law will give judges a new authority to prolong probation indefinitely simply because someone cannot pay restitution.
For those reasons, the ACLU of Virginia asked the Governor to amend HB484/SB994 to address these concerns or veto the bill as Governor McAuliffe did. The letter continued to list needed amendments to HB484 and SB 994.
You can read and download the full letter in the attachment below.