Richmond, Virginia—In a pivotal step towards justice today, Virginia community members are relieved today after members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of SB475 , Senator Jennifer McClellan’s bill requiring defendants to have access to a lawyer the very first time they appear before a judge. This move ensures that everyone, particularly people of color and low-income people, will have the same opportunity to have a lawyer and a fair bond hearing. It will now move to the full Senate for a vote on the floor.
“We’re thrilled the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to move forward Senator McClellan’s bill to ensure no one has to be alone the first time they appear before a judge. By having a lawyer to fight on their behalf, people who have been found neither innocent nor guilty of what they are accused of won’t be left waiting in jail for days or weeks before they go before a judge in their first appearance,” LaTwyla Mathias, Executive Director at Progress Virginia said. “We hope that this bill passes on the Senate Floor and that members of the House of Delegates will also pass it so that we will have a more just criminal justice system.”
Pretrial detention leads to:
- 4x greater likelihood of being sentenced to jail
- 3x longer jail sentences
- 3x greater likelihood of being sentenced to prison
- 2x longer prison sentences
- Worse life outcomes – Even short detentions are likely to cause disruption to the life of the person charged including:
- Loss of employment
- Loss of housing
- Loss of custody of children or other family members in need of care
- More likely to be arrested in the future – both before and after the initial set of charges are resolved
After the state of New York introduced counsel at first appearance, defendants were 10-20% more likely to have bail set at less than $1000 and three times more likely to have bail set at under $500.