|House Judiciary took up what Chairman Capito described as a “voluminous bill” on criminal sentencing reform, HB 2017. He had told the committee beforehand to bring computers so they could “save the trees” and not provide printed copies.
The committee was provided with charts to help them follow counsels’ explanation. Counsel Reese began the tag team explanation, with Chairman Capito wishing him “Godspeed.” Counsel Reese provided historical perspective of this undertaking, noting that it was motivated by Del. Steele, who was out with Covid and couldn’t be at the meeting, working with two counsel and former delegates Shott, Brown, and Canestraro. They began their work April 16, 2020 and met once a week by Zoom. Counsel Reese explained the bill as a “sentencing scheme” creating classes of misdemeanor and felony offenses with some revised penalties. Some sections of criminal code hadn’t been revised since the 19th century. Six categories of felonies are created in 61-17-3 and three classes of misdemeanors are in 61-17-4.
Counsel Castro then went into the substance of the bill. Felony classifications set forth are:
Class 6 – 1 to 5 years
Class 5 – 2 to 10 years
Class 4 – 3 to 15 years
Class 3, 2, & 1 – the “heavy hitting” felonies with class 1 being life imprisonment
Article 1 of chapter 61 is conceptually the start of the bill although the first part of the bill repeals many sections of code. Many of these repeals are antiquated carry-overs from Virginia law that became part of WV law in 1863, such as laws related to dueling. Others simply no longer apply, such as recording songs off the radio.
Counsel reviewed some examples of the felony classification system. Voluntary manslaughter becomes a class 4 felony with sentence of 3 to 15 years. Concealment of a body is in Class 6, with 1 to 5 years. For the most part, current penalties are mirrored in the new bill for most crimes. Our current code has sections for a variety of people for which there are enhanced penalties if assaulted, such as government workers, law enforcement, health care & medical personnel, etc. A new article for workers comp crimes is created. Both counselors went through the many revisions and how they are classified or why they were repealed.
Following 2 1/2 hours of explanation of the bill, the committee asked questions until it was time to go to floor session. It should be noted that, while the working group that developed this bill had prosecutorial experience, there was not any input from stakeholders in criminal justice throughout the development process, such as law enforcement, elected prosecutors, the judiciary, victim advocates, corrections, and others.