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Senate Passes McClellan Bill to Reform the Criminal Justice System for Virginians with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions

"Bill Would Allow Individuals to Present Evidence of Mental Health Conditions or Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities"

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From State Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s office:

Senate Passes McClellan Bill to Reform the Criminal Justice System for Virginians with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions

Bill Would Allow Individuals to Present Evidence of Mental Health Conditions or Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities

RICHMOND, VA – Today, the Virginia Senate passed Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond)’s SB 1315, a bill that will improve the way that Virginia’s criminal justice system addresses cases involving individuals with mental health conditions and developmental/intellectual disabilities.

The bill would:

  • End a 1980s law that bans defendants from introducing evidence about their mental health conditions or intellectual/developmental disability, and how it may have impacted their mental state at the time of the alleged offense.
  • Require a judge to consider such conditions at bail and sentencing stages. 
  • Add training for court-appointed lawyers to help them understand the unique considerations of representing people with such conditions and disabilities.

“Virginia must modernize our approach to addressing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental illness in our criminal justice system,” Senator McClellan said. “This bill will reform our criminal justice system to be fairer, and to address the unique challenges of mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities. I look forward to working with the house to pass this critical criminal justice reform legislation.”

Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) is carrying the companion bill in the House.

“Too often, people enter the justice system with the odds already stacked against them. This legislation ensures that people get to tell their full stories in the courtroom and is an important step toward ending the criminalization of people with Mental Health Conditions and intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Delegate Bourne.  “I am proud to have sponsored this legislation in the House, and I would like to thank Senator McClellan for her dedicated work on this important issue.”

“Too often, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities & mental health conditions — particularly Black, indigenous, and other individuals of color — become trapped in the system due to guidelines that do not recognize how intellectual and developmental disabilities or mental health conditions can affect so many aspects of that person’s interaction with the justice system,” said Tonya Milling, Executive Director of The Arc of Virginia. “This new legislation ensures that when people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are involved in the criminal justice system, their disability is recognized and considered to ensure that their rights are protected and that they can receive fair treatment including reasonable accommodations as necessary. The Arc of Virginia is grateful to Senator McClellan and Delegate Bourne for their work in bringing fairness and justice to the court system.”

“Senator McClellan’s bill SB 1315 and Delegate Bourne’s bill HB 2047 are an important criminal justice reform for those with mental health and intellectual/developmental disabilities such as autism,” said Brian Kelmar, chairman of Legal Reform for Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled (LRIDD). “It provides fairness and equitable justice under the law to allow evidence recognizing disabilities and mental health issues throughout the judicial process and not just at the sentencing phase. One common comment I consistently hear from parents and relatives with family members with mental health and/or intellectual/developmental issues caught up in the criminal justice system is ‘clearly the courts will consider my son’s mental or developmental condition and this nightmare will go away.’ Instead, they are horrifically shocked and in unimaginable pain when they find out that evidence of the mental state or developmental disability can only be taken into account during sentencing phase.This legislation is a great opportunity to provide equality under the law for our most vulnerable population and the first step in educating those working in the courts.”

Senator McClellan worked with students at the University of Virginia School of Law’s new  State and Local Government Policy Clinic to help develop the legislative proposal.  One of the students who worked with the Senator, Lukus Freeman, said, “This law, while new to Virginia, reflects common practice in a number of other states.  It also reflects recommendations from the American Bar Association.” 

Kyle McGoey, who also worked on the legislation, added, “SB 1315 will bring Virginia in line with what is considered best practices when it comes to people with disabilities or mental illness who are involved in the criminal justice system.”

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Jennifer McClellan was elected to the Senate of Virginia in 2017 after serving 11 years in the House of Delegates. She has been a leader on fighting climate change, strengthening public education and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, protecting voting rights, enacting criminal justice reform, combating domestic and sexual violence, and fighting discrimination of all kinds.

Twitter: @JennMcClellanVA ; Facebook: @Senjennifermcclellan; IG: @JennMcClellanVA;  Website: Jennifermcclellan.com 

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