A bill sponsored by conservative Republican Del. Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge) which would have prevented Virginia judges from cutting a break to first-time offenders has died in the VA Senate. Thank goodness.

For years, judges in Virginia marijuana cases have “deferred” entering formal convictions, so long as first-time offenders stayed out of trouble in the future. The practice is similar to the probation before judgment used in Maryland or deferred prosecution found in DC. It is often used in first-time Virginia marijuana possession cases.

In 2010, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the practice, affirming that judges have broad authority to defer marijuana convictions in a wonderful opinion, Hernandez v. Commonwealth. Enter Del. Cline, chairman of the Virginia Conservative Caucus, who argued that judges giving people second chances “undermined his constitutional authority to make law.” Get over it, Ben.

Virginia judges as a group are as strict as they come. If a Virginia judge in convinced that a marijuana defendant is no risk to the community, and likely to turn his life around, why take away that judge’s flexibility to fashion a sentence that fits the crime.

Of course, if the defendant messes up, he’s right back where he started, or worse. Judges typically take a dim view of people who mess up after being given a second chance.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed in the Virginia Senate, where the judiciary committee rejected Cline’s bill to limit judicial discretion in marijuana cases 11 – 3. Stay tuned.

Categories: Marijuana Laws

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