Category Archives: Commentary

Hitting a Cop With a Pretzel Will Still Be a Felony

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the pieces of the criminal justice reform package that caused some consternation on this blog has been killed in a House committee. SB 5032 (Surovell, D-Fairfax) would have amended the statute that makes assault of a public safety employee, including a law-enforcement officer, a felony, with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months. (Assault generally is a misdemeanor.)

As the bill emerged from the Senate, it included the following provisions:

  • The felony charge was retained;
  • The mandatory minimum sentence was eliminated;
  • If the degree of culpability were slight, e.g. offender was mentally ill, or if there were no bodily injury, a jury or judge could find the offender guilty of misdemeanor assault, rather than felony assault. (Such a reduction in the charge would be discretionary on the part of the jury or judge.), and
  • The incident would have to be investigated by another law-enforcement officer not involved and any arrest approved by the Commonwealth’s attorney.

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The Trojan Horse Amendment

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I need some help sorting out a dilemma I find myself in.

I am strongly in favor of the concept of authorizing an independent commission to draw legislative district lines. On the other hand, I really do not like the proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would create such a commission.

During the debate last session, two objections were the most prominent. The members of the Legislative Black Caucus objected strenuously that the proposed amendment did not guarantee that minorities would be represented on the commission. I am not swayed by that argument. There is ample opportunity to have minorities appointed as citizen members. Furthermore, the voting rights of minorities are protected by the Voting Rights Act. If any redistricting plan produced by the commission unfairly violated the voting rights of minorities, it would be struck down by the federal courts. The Republicans found this out a couple of years ago. Continue reading

A Sad Emblem of Our Times

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

A venerable Richmond-based printing company closed last May. Somehow, that really saddened me. Perhaps because it was located not far from where I live. Perhaps because it had been around for so long.  Perhaps because it had a niche business that seemed sort of neat to me. Perhaps because its closing seemed so emblematic of the times.

I meant to comment on it then, but other topics and activities kept bumping it down the list. Then, Jim’s post yesterday about the Virginia economy and some of the follow-up comments brought it back to my mind.

The William Byrd Press was founded in 1913. In 1984, it merged with a North Carolina company and was renamed Cadmus. By 2007, it had 500 employees and was the world’s largest printer for publishers of scientific, technical, and medical journals. It was the fifth largest printer of periodicals in North America. Continue reading

Virginia Needs to Prepare for November’s Election

by DJ Rippert

Chaos. Violent riots have become a nightly occurrence across America. Portland is now over 100 nights of protests and riots. Meanwhile, Portland’s mayor expresses his solidarity with the protesters while moving from his residence because of the number of violent protests conducted on his doorstep. You can’t make this up. People are dying in big cities and small. Kenosha has been a war zone recently and another inexplicable police shooting in Los Angeles has that city on edge. In Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently had an epiphany … the riots and looting were not protests. Rather they were “planned attacks.”  Sharp thinkin’ from the Land of Lincoln. Sadly, the Labor Day weekend saw 51 shooting and 10 killings in Chicago. Closer to home D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is talking about a possible “race war” stirred up by “outside agitators.” Charles Manson is getting his “Helter Skelter” 50 years late. Virginia has been no stranger to street violence as looting and vandalism have come to Richmond and Hampton Roads.

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Reinforcing a Constitutional Right

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

While there are several high-profile bills on police and criminal justice reforms making their way through the General Assembly, another, less-noticed bill, SB 5007 (Morrissey, D-Richmond), ending jury sentencing, has the potential to have as great an impact on the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system as any of the others.

Currently, in Virginia, if there is a jury trial in a criminal case, the jury determines the guilt of a defendant and, if it finds him guilty, makes a sentencing recommendation to the judge. The judge may impose a lower sentence than recommended by the jury, but not a higher one. It is unusual for a judge to impose a sentence other than the one recommended by the jury. SB 5007 would restrict the role of the jury to the question of guilt, with the judge determining the sentence, unless the defendant requested that the jury also determine the sentence. Continue reading

Reporting in on the Virtual Learning Experience

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I am taking a course this fall from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.  Virtual, of course. The experience leaves a lot to be desired.

First of all, I need to stipulate that I have little ground on which to complain because I do not have to pay any tuition. The state has a program under which Virginia residents over 60 years old can take any course in a state-supported institution of higher education for free. If one has an income below a certain level, the course can be taken for credit; otherwise, no college credits are earned. The other restriction is that tuition-paying students get first crack at courses; the non-payers can enroll only if there is still room in the course on the first day. (I did have to pay for a textbook.)

The professor is obviously not used to teaching a virtual course. I must say, though, that she is doing the best she can. Having taught college courses on an adjunct basis in the past, I think it would be difficult to teach while sitting down and trying to monitor a couple of computer screens. Although she can “see” us, it is hard to establish any one-on-one relationship or contact. Continue reading

Also Chillin’

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Like Jim, I am taking a week off and chilling out.  Except I am in Sandbridge (Virginia Beach) with my wife, our daughter and her family.  (Those are the grandkids in the photo.)

Sandbridge is pretty isolated from the rest of Virginia Beach.  That is what I like about it.  We have gotten up to the boardwalk area once for lunch.  It is pretty weird.  At this time of year, the restaurants would be crowded, there would be lots of folks strolling on the boardwalk, and on the beaches.  That is not the case now.  There were some people around, but not nearly as in other years.  And Atlantic Avenue was practically deserted.  All the restaurants we have been to have been almost empty.

An employee of the realty company told me that all the houses were rented for this week. That may be so, but folks are staying close to their houses.  There are some people on the beach, but it is not at all crowded.  Weird times.

Murder and Marijuana in Northern Virginia

By DJ Rippert

Risky business, reccless behavior.  Federal prosecutors recently charged members of a Northern Virginia drug gang, the Reccless Tigers, with a variety of felonies.  A US News & World Report article claims multiple members of the gang have been charged with “murder in a sweeping new indictment that blames the northern Virginia street gang with two deaths, multiple fire bombings and a sophisticated bi-coastal drug operation that supplied marijuana-laced vape pens to kids throughout the region’s school systems.”  This is not the gang’s first brush with the law.  Nearly 20 members of the gang and associates of the gang already pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from drug related activities.

New kids in town.  Government sources say that the Reccless Tigers were formed in 2011 in the Centreville area of Fairfax County.  The gang mounted a fairly sophisticated operation.  Drug dealers would be induced to go into debt to the Reccless Tigers for the purchase of marijuana to be sold in Northern Virgina.  When the dealers struggled to pay back the debt they would be forced to work at a marijuana farm in Hayfork, California which had ties to the gang.  In essence, the gang operated a vertically integrated farm-to-vape-pen business.  The farm was raided in July 2019.

The cost of cooperation.  As the USN&WR article states, “Brandon White was given a choice, prosecutors say: If he opted not to testify against a member of the Reccless Tigers street gang who had assaulted him, a gang member would pay him $8,000 for his injuries. But if he testified, he’d be killed. White testified. Less than three months later, he was dead, his body left in the Virginia woods.”

The profit of illegality.  It’s hard to imagine how the Reccless Tigers would have been able to fund their criminal enterprise if Virginia was one of the eleven states which have legalized the recreational sale and use of marijuana.  In Virginia, the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized effective July 1.  However, there are still severe criminal penalties for the manufacture, transport and distribution of marijuana.  Criminals willing to bear the risks of providing the marijuana are able to profit handsomely.  And, as with almost all criminal enterprises, turf, territory and violence accompany the crimes.  The cost of Virginia’s intransigence on legalizing marijuana is more than lost taxes and lost legitimate jobs.  It also includes lost lives.

COVID-19’s Long-Term Changes in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

In the long run…  Over the past eight months COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the world, the United States and Virginia.  One hundred and twenty thousand cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Virginia  Over 2,500 people have died from COVID-19 . The cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to grow in the Old Dominion. One year ago unemployment in Virginia hovered at 3%. Today it is 8%. Protests and rioting, possibly catalyzed by the COVID-19 lockdowns, have occurred regularly in several Virginia cities as well as Washington, D.C. Schools in Virginia moved to virtual teaching last Spring and many schools will open this Fall with either fully or partially virtual teaching. Nobody doubts the short- and mid-term effects of COVID-19. But what of the long-term effects? What impacts of COVID-19 will be felt after this version of the Coronavirus is gone?

The Spanish Flu (1918), Polio (1916 – 1955), H2N2 (1957), HIV/AIDS (1980s -), Swine flu (2009), COVID-19 (2020 -). Epidemics have broken out in the United States since the colonial days. Smallpox, yellow fever and cholera outbreaks plagued the country for centuries. The Spanish Flu pandemic was far worse than COVID-19 (to date). That flu struck in four waves and is estimated to have killed up to 50 million people worldwide. However, most Americans today would say that the Spanish Flu didn’t create major long-term changes in the United States. Some would disagree. Academics like Andrew Price-Smith believe that flu tipped the balance toward the allies in World War I. The growth of predominantly female-led nursing in the US may have been a consequence. In utero exposure to the pandemic may have negatively affected the health and prosperity of those exposed. Some survivors of the Spanish Flu never fully recovered. Despite all that, the Spanish Flu was called “the forgotten pandemic” until COVID resurrected interest. Economically speaking, the end of the Spanish Flu coincided with the start of the Roaring Twenties, making it hard to find long -term negative economic impacts from that pandemic. Continue reading

Be Careful What You Ask For!

Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D), Fairfax

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Increasing earned sentence credits for offenders in state prisons seems to have a good chance of passing in the General Assembly session. SB 5034 (Boysko, Fairfax) has been reported by the Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services and re-referred to the Finance Committee.  The House Democratic Caucus’s agenda for the special session includes this issue.

So far, the discussions surrounding this issue have missed the fact that this bill, along with the reinstatement of parole that will come up in the 2021 regular session, will seriously undermine two major elements of the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system. Continue reading

Elmer Gantry In Lynchburg

Jerry Falwell, Jr., and wife Becki

By Peter Galuszka

The resignation of Jerry Falwell Jr. amid a series of scandals may have a strong impact in Virginia where his late father built an extraordinary, ultra-conservative evangelical university in Lynchburg that later became highly politicized lightning rod supporting President Donald Trump.

Falwell has been caught up in a number of controversies including limiting speech on campus, going after The New York Times for trespassing when it reported he insisted that student ignore wearing anti-viral pandemic masks and so on.

What happened with Falwell Jr is as  an American story as apple pie topped with a Cross. It might have some straight out of the pages of Elmer Gantry.

After touting strict school policies that forbid students from drinking alcohol, watching “R”-rated movies or engaging in pre-marital sex, Falwell was pictured aboard a NASCAR mogul’s yacht half dressed with a semi-clad, pregnant woman who was said to be his wife Becki’s assistant. Falwell was holding a wine glass with a liquid in it but Falwell said it wasn’t wine.

Shortly afterwards, he gave an interview to the right-leaning Washington Examiner stating that his wife had been involved with a multi-year sexual affair with Giancarlo Granda, a former Miami Beach pool boy whom Falwell funded to set up a hostel business. Continue reading

Boomergeddon vs Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)

by DJ Rippert

Saving America’s bacon. In 2010 Jim Bacon, blogrunner of this site, wrote a book titled Boomergeddon. The sub-title of the book is, “How Runaway Deficits and the Age Wave Will Bankrupt the Federal Government and Devastate Retirement for Baby Boomers Unless We Act Now.” The book is well written and contains considerable supporting detail but that sub-title pretty much sums things up. At the time of publication Bacon’s book amplified the conventional wisdom of the day — deficits are bad and, as our president might say, big deficits are bad bigly. That traditional belief has come under scrutiny lately. One leading critic of the theories espoused by Boomergeddon is Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University and former advisor to the Sanders campaign. Her new book, published in 2020, is titled, The Deficit Myth.  One paragraph from the description of Kellon’s book on Amazon.Com sums up her thesis vis-a-vis Boomergeddon. “Kelton busts through the myths that prevent us from taking action: that the federal government should budget like a household, that deficits will harm the next generation, crowd out private investment, and undermine long-term growth, and that entitlements are propelling us toward a grave fiscal crisis.” Kelton believes the United States has considerably more room to incur debt without causing economic harm and we should get about the business of incurring more debt. Paying homage to her Democratic-Socialist roots, Kellon sub-titled her book, “Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy.”

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Police and People in a Mental Health Crisis

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported many of the Democrats’ criminal justice reform bills at its meeting last week. I will discuss the most important ones, in some depth, in installments, rather than all at once. This first installment is on the interaction between police and mentally ill folks.

For many years, police officials and sheriffs have warned of the problems posed by mentally ill persons committing crimes, often petty ones, as well as by those having a crisis and acting more violently. This problem has been increasing over the years. (The reasons for this increase are beyond the scope of this post as well as beyond the scope of the knowledge and expertise of the author.) Law-enforcement officials have said publicly, repeatedly and correctly, that their officers have not been trained to deal appropriately with these folks. Continue reading

What About Those Folks Facing Eviction, Governor?

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

In his July 24 letter to the Chief Justice, the Governor requested the Supreme Court extend its moratorium on evictions.  He concluded his request by saying, “This [the moratorium] will provide my administration the time to both work with the General Assembly to develop and pass a legislative package that will provide additional relief to those facing eviction and to expand financial assistance for tenants through our rent relief program.”

So, now that the General Assembly is in session, what has the Governor done for those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are facing eviction? The answer is: (1) some help in delaying evictions and (2) no help, so far, in getting the money needed to pay the rent. Continue reading

The Hearings Are Over, Let the Battles Begin

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The House Committees on Courts of Justice and Public Safety held three meetings/public hearings in preparation for the General Assembly’s consideration of criminal justice and police reform in the upcoming special session. The sessions were billed as public hearings, but, in actuality, most of the time was spent in hearing from invited speakers. Comments from members of the public were relegated to the end of the three-hour period and each speaker was limited to three minutes. At each session, only about 10 members of the public made comments.

The subsequent list of criminal justice legislative issues adopted by the House leadership for its special session agenda can be found here. Remarkably, all but three items were also included on the list released earlier by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. (See my compilation of that list here.) The only items not on the VLBC list was the Attorney General’s proposal that his office be authorized to conduct “pattern or practices” investigations of police departments and two vaguely-worded proposals relating to vetting law-enforcement applicants and diversifying the Committee on Training of the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

The VLBC proposals missing from the Democratic Caucus list are ones to “defund” the police and regulate, by Code, the use of force by police. Obviously, the Democrats knew what they wanted going into the meetings and tailored their lists of speakers to ensure they got it. Based on the resulting list of proposals, the meetings may as well have not been held. Continue reading