When former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli agrees with Governor Terry McAuliffe’s proposed criminal justice reforms, it’s a sign that conservatives and liberals actually might be able to overcome their differences and get something useful done.

In a Washington Post op-ed last week, Cuccinelli made the case for raising the felony theft threshold from $200, tied for lowest in the nation, and to stop suspending a driver’s license for not paying court fines and fees.

If someone steals an item worth more than $200, the crime becomes a grand larceny and a felony rather than a misdemeanor. The purchasing power of $200 when Virginia’s threshold was set in 1980 is greater than $500 when adjusted for inflation. The Virginia justice system should focus its resources on more serious offenders, Cuccinelli says, not toss nonviolent youths into juvenile correction facilities at an average cost of $150,000 per head.

Likewise, suspending drivers licenses for unpaid court fines and fees makes it difficult for hundreds of thousands of Virginians to maintain gainful unemployment and repay those very same court fines and fees. “This has become government’s version of squeezing blood from a turnip, and it is a fight in which conservatives in Virginia can work to limit government abuse,” writes Cuccinelli.

Reforms have been proposed in the past, but they have been blocked by conservative Republicans in the legislature. I’m not sure what their objections are. Perhaps don’t want to be perceived as “soft on crime.” Perhaps Cuccinelli, a firebrand conservative, will give them the ideological cover they need to change positions.

It’s fine to crack down on violent and hard-core criminals — throw the book at them, as far as I’m concerned. But we should make it easier for petty criminals and those unable to pay their court costs to recover from their mistakes and become productive, tax-paying citizens. Raising the felony theft threshold and restoring licenses to drivers who lost them for non-driving offenses are two very good places to start.

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5 responses to “Cats Laying Down with Dogs”

  1. Re: “Cats laying down with dogs”: which is which?

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    more like , Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. 😉

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    This is more an example of a simple truth of the legislative process – your opponent on one issue or bill may very likely be a great ally on the next one. Labels can be meaningless. Changing the felony threshold is a no-brainer in my book, given the person can still get a pretty serious misdemeanor on their record and some repeat offenses will get them up to a felony. Does that make me a cat or a dog or, in Larry’s odd world, a hog?

    My comments on the other issue will be limited because I have clients with an interest, but the license suspension is a powerful motivator to pay up and I haven’t seen anybody suggest a good replacement for it. All you have to do to get your license back is start on a payment plan, and legislation is passing this year that will make that easier to do. I was also interested to learn that the fines are only part of the bill, as multiple court costs are also layered on top of them. The fine itself might be half or less.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    pigs and hogs… how lenient can proposed legislation be – and still have
    some potential to garner enough votes to pass?

    but the bigger picture for the “felon” is that you’re working them deeper and deeper into the criminal justice system for what is essentially economic reasons.. not criminal… and that does no one any good when you consider what happens to such individuals downstream… you pretty much preordain their fate – and society if they end up with incarceration and entitlement costs – not the mention a “professional” trained felon… from his “schooling”

    we could not be doing this more stupidly in my view. we get the fine from some of them but at what cost to society overall for the others who get chewed up by the criminal justice system?

  5. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    The $200 trigger is absurd. We certainly don’t want to send signals to people that it’s OK to steal smaller amounts or that stealing something valued at $225 is no big deal. But a felony is a serious crime and should be treated as such across the board. And given inflation and the many tasks conducted by our police, the trigger should be raised to a more reasonable amount.

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