New Bill Would Mandate Release of Old Murderers

Del. Don Scott

by Hans Bader

A proposed law would require Virginia prisons to release many murderers when they reach age 60 or 65, even if prison officials know they are dangerous. Under a bill proposed Friday by Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, parole officials would be stripped of their authority to block such inmates’ release.

Right now, Virginia’s parole board has the leeway to grant “geriatric release” to many older inmates. If it wants to, it can release inmates if they have been in prison for ten years and have reached the age of 60, or if they have been in prison for five years and have reached the age of 65 — as long as they haven’t committed a “Class 1” felony, which includes certain types of murders.

But it doesn’t have to release such inmates, and it tends not to, unless an inmate is both in poor health, and no longer dangerous.

Scott’s bill would totally change this, leaving state officials powerless to block the release of Class 2 felons, such as rapists and killers whose homicide didn’t rise to the level of a Class 1 felony. It says:

Any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction for a felony offense, other than a Class 1 felony, (i) who has reached the age of 65 or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of 60 or older and who has served at least 10 years of the sentence imposed shall be granted conditional release.

Scott’s bill would require Virginia prisons to release convicts at that age, even if they have committed manslaughter after previously being released, or if they committed acts of violence in prison.

The assumption behind Scott’s bill is that people “age out of” crime by the time they are 60 or 65. But that’s not always true. Serial killer Albert Fish was deadly into his 60s. And some people remain dangerous even when they are very old.
A classic example is Albert Flick. At the age of 76, he murdered a woman in July 2018, stabbing her at least 11 times while her twin children watched. He had previously been imprisoned from 1979 to 2004 for killing his wife by stabbing her 14 times in front of her daughter. Then he assaulted a woman in 2010, but avoided a long prison sentence, because a judge deemed him too old to be a continuing threat. He proved the judge wrong by killing Kimberly Dobbie in front of her children in 2018. He began stabbing her without warning, in front of a laundromat, in broad daylight, using knives he purchased two days earlier for that purpose.

Under Scott’s bill, an inmate like Flick would have to be released after five years in prison, no matter what. That would be very scary for victims’ families.
Scott’s bill is not the only legislation pending in Virginia that would release violent criminals. Legislators have also proposed bills to reinstate parole in Virginia, which had been largely abolished in 1995. Parole would be available even to violent criminals who got shorter sentences in the past decade under the assumption that they’d never be eligible for parole.

On January 3, Governor Ralph Northam proposed making prisoners eligible for parole at age 50 if they’ve served ten years. Since murderers, unlike most criminals, often receive ten or more years in prison, the primary beneficiaries of Northam’s plan would be murderers. They would be eligible for parole at that age, even when they committed the worst murders, such as abducting and raping the victim before killing her, or killing multiple people.

Northam also has proposed making prisoners eligible for parole after only five years when they reach age 55 — which could result in people who commit murder at age 50 serving only a few years in prison.

Legislators have also proposed extending voting rights to inmates. As the Daily Caller notes, that legislation “appears to allow prisoners to vote in the jurisdiction of the jail, potentially making inmates a powerful voting bloc in sparsely populated communities.”

“Virginia’s largest state prisons are in sparsely populated areas” where a large inmate population could defeat candidates preferred by most of the native population.

The Daily Caller quoted a former member of the Virginia Board of Elections saying that such voting “could lead to the inmates running the asylum.”

Inmates could end up dictating the outcome of local issues, such as electing county prosecutors, or voting for bond issues that inmates never have to pay off because they don’t pay taxes and won’t stay in the area after being released from prison. This is possible, because the inmate population is large enough to shift the political balance of power in places like Lunenburg County.

Forty-eight of the 50 states do not allow prison inmates to vote. The two states that do allow inmates to vote have far fewer inmates than Virginia, and don’t let inmates to vote in the community that holds the prison. Instead, inmates can only vote by absentee ballot in the community they lived in before being incarcerated.

Update: This post has been updated to clarify which felony classifications would be affected by the bill.

Hans Bader is an attorney residing in Northern Virginia. This article was published originally in Liberty Unyielding.

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19 responses to “New Bill Would Mandate Release of Old Murderers

  1. Are the examples given – examples of Class 1 or Class 2 felony murder?

    Are we fairly, accurately presenting the issue?

    The proposed law says : ” Any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction for a felony offense, OTHER than a Class 1 felony,

    There are two classes of felonies for murder:

    Class 1:

    Contract murder
    Murder of a law enforcement officer
    Murder by a prisoner
    Multiple murders
    Murder arising from a drug distribution crime
    Murder of a child younger than 14 years old by a person 21 years or older
    First-Degree Murder

    It is first degree murder to kill another by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction.

    Class 2

    Second-Degree Murder

    All other murder not defined as either capital murder or first-degree murder is second-degree murder, and is punishable by anywhere from five to 40 years in prison. This includes felony murder, i.e. murder that happens when the defendant is committing another felony such as robbery or carjacking. Even a death that is an accident will be considered felony murder if it happens while a felony is being committed.

    • Many first degree murders are apparently a Class 2 felony, rather than Class 1 felony — even when they are quite premeditated.

      Capital murder is, of course, a Class 1 felony. But Virginia’s capital murder statute is surprisingly narrow (covering things like murder of a law enforcement officer or contract killers or child killers), not like Texas, which executes even more people.

      Here is what Findlaw says about Virginia law:

      “First-degree murder is classified as a Class 2 felony, which means that it’s punishable by a range of 20 years – life imprisonment and/or fines not to exceed $100,000.”

      So the general legal rule is that first-degree murder is a Class 2 felony, not a Class 1 felony.

      • Good point. I’d say the classification of capital murder is still fairly broad setting forth 15 types of murder circumstances that constitute capital murder.

        The murder was committed while abducting someone either to extort money or other pecuniary benefit or to defile the victim.

        The person was acting as a hired killer when committing the murder.

        The accused was a prisoner of a state or local correctional facility or in the custody of an employee of one of these facilities.

        The murder occurred during the commission of a robbery or attempted robbery.

        The murder occurred during a rape, forcible sodomy, object sexual penetration, or an attempt of one of these crimes.

        The killing was of a specified law enforcement officer or fire marshal.
        More than one person was killed in one criminal act.

        More than one person was murdered during a three-year period.

        The killing was of a pregnant woman where the accused knew that the woman was pregnant and intended to cause the involuntary termination of her pregnancy.

        The accused was 21 years old or older and the person killed was under 14 years old.

        The murder happened during the commission of or attempted commission of an act of terrorism.

        The murder victim was a judge at the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, circuit court, or district court.

        The killing was of a witness in a criminal proceeding after the witness received a subpoena and the killing was to interfere with the person’s duties in the case.

        Summary taken from the Greenspun Shapiro Law Firm’s website.

  2. Expect a continuing flood of these Social Justice Bills driven by leftist ideologies that have been gestating now for decades at Virginia’s elite public universities.

    Why now?

    Answer is that our ill educated but highly activist students have grown up to reach positions of power.

  3. Why not just restrict these freebie paroles to inmates who committed non-violent crimes? Why should a murderer or rapist ever get automatic parole?

    This is liberalism / socialism at its best. The all-knowing government can establish hard and fast rules that manage society without the troublesome interference of people on the parole boards who review the situations on a case-by-case basis.

    Just more Dillon’s Rule from a somewhat more obtuse angle.

  4. The Democratic Party of Virginia is demonstrating that it cares more about murders and rapists than ordinary residents.

    • You should not attribute one Delegate’s bill to the entire party.

      • Come on! The Democrats have attributed a single delegate’s bill to the entire GOP for decades, as does the Post’s articles and editorials.

        One set of rules. It’s OK to engage in street-fighting when the GOP is in power but, when the Democrats are in charge, all opposing behavior must be genteel.

        There are lots of reasonable Democrats but this last election brought in some extremely left-wing crazies.

  5. I will repeat my comment about this bill in an earlier post:
    This is not a good bill. It was obviously introduced by a freshman delegate and reflects the naivete of someone unfamiliar with the prison population. When I worked for DPB, the Dept. of Corrections was my primary agency assignment. As part of this assignment, I regularly toured prisons. On one of my early visits, I saw an elderly male inmate. I remarked to the prison administrator accompanying me on my tour that the inmate certainly couldn’t represent a danger to society and was a good example of someone who should be released. The administrator smiled and proceeded to tell me the story of the inmate. Although he was fairly old, he had not been in prison very long (I can’t remember the exact number of years). He had gotten into an argument with his sister-in-law over keys to a truck. So, he went into his house and brought out a gun and blew her away.

    My point is not that no older inmates should be released before completing their long sentences. There are some that have been in prison a long time and could be released without imposing a danger to public safety. At the same time, there are a lot who have committed their crimes fairly recently, in particular sex crimes, and need to remain incarcerated to protect the public. My point is that the law should not be absolute either way; the Parole Board needs to have the discretion to grant geriatric release to those older inmates that it feels have served sufficient time for their crimes and would no longer pose a danger to society.

    • I guess Whitey Bolger shouldn’t have been imprisoned in his 80s.

      I believe in second changes, especially for younger offenders. But murder and rape are horrendous crimes. They destroy not only the victim but families and friends. It’s not unreasonable to expect a person who commits one or more of these crimes, is convicted and whose conviction and sentence to serve the full sentence.

      As Dick suggests, there may be a good reason to allow a particular person geriatric release. But that decision should be based on evidence, the views of the victim or surviving family members and carefully considered by the Parole Board. Release should be the exception not the rule.

      Delegate Scott seems dangerous to me. Perhaps he was elected to be dangerous. I don’t know anything about Portsmouth.

    • >> At the same time, there are a lot who have committed their crimes fairly recently, in particular sex crimes>>

      Do you have anything to support this wild-ass statement about sex offenders, or is it just your supposition based on what you see on Bill O’Oreilly?
      Just asking.

  6. I pretty much agree that each case has to be looked at on its own merits as well as agree that age is no real determinant of potential violent behavior.

    But for Class 2 felony murder – a 20-year old was waiting outside in a car while others robbed and killed someone in a convenience store often got charged with murder also and the difference was that if he was a white kid with some income resources, he got a good lawyer and if he was a black kid from a poor neighborhood – he had none and got the max.

    I think the stats might confirm that.

    • Waiting outside the convenience store? Perhaps as a look-out. When you agree to participate in an armed robbery, where innocent people can be killed, you are part of the crime – from soup to nuts.

      And everyone charged with a felony has the right to appointed counsel if necessary. Most public defenders are pretty good lawyers.

      • Black letter law as I understand it. You don’t have to pull the trigger to commit murder.

        • not according to TMT. If you are part of the crime – you are also guility of murder done by others..

          that’s the problem with this issue.

          TMT thinks public defenders are as good as high dollar lawyers also.

          but if you look at how many blacks get sentenced for murder versus how many whites – then what explains more blacks getting convicted than whites for the same crime?

      • TMT Your last paragraph about public defenders amounts to another wild ass statement by implication. Yes, many public defenders are good lawyers. They have to be in order to deal with the deluge of crap that they get. The problem is they take lots of shortcuts, they have to in order to survive. The witness not interviewed, the new theory not tested that is accepted in every other state. These things take time and most of the public defenders I know have upwards of 50 files on their desk at any one time. The court appointed lawyers that are not part of a public defenders office get paid $90/hour with a cap of $445 per case for the average felony. How much time do you think these lawyers can devote to each case and still pay their rent every month?

        For once, I agree with Larry and believe you should consult a shaman to have your dreams analyzed. 😉

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