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MAJOR PUBLIC SAFETY BILL PASSES GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Richmond--One of Attorney General Mark R. Herring's major public safety bills has passed the General Assembly and is going to the Governor for his signature. SB640 (Howell) will make witnesses of drug-related crimes and violent felonies eligible for important protections, including the ability to keep identifying and contact information confidential during court proceedings. The Office of the Attorney General's Division of Public Safety and Enforcement drafted the bill and brought it to the General Assembly based on feedback from Commonwealth's Attorneys who have had difficulty getting witnesses to testify because of fear of reprisal.
"Witness testimony is often key to getting dangerous criminals off the streets and behind bars, and those who provide testimony should be able to do so without fearing for their safety or their family's safety," said Attorney General Herring. "This is an important bill that will give more Virginians the protections they may need to feel comfortable testifying against a gang member, drug dealer, or violent felon. I appreciate Senator Howell's patronage of the bill and the Commonwealth's Attorneys who brought this issue to the attention of my office and helped find a good solution."
This bill was supported by a broad coalition of public safety advocates including the Virginia Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys, Fraternal Order of Police, Chiefs of Police Association, Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, Virginia Network for Victims & Witnesses of Crime, and Protect.org.
"The Virginia Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys urges the enactment of SB640, which would extend privacy protections to the victims and witnesses of violent felonies," said Mike Doucette, past president and legislative chairman for the Virginia Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys and Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney. "Virginia law already offers these protections to the victims and witnesses of criminal street gang violence; it only makes sense to protect these people in all crimes of violence."
The law currently allows witnesses of gang-related crimes to request that the criminal justice system keep confidential their address, telephone number, or place of employment of the witness or a member of their family. This bill would extend those protections to witnesses of crimes including the manufacture, sale, or distribution of drugs and violent felonies such as homicide, assault, or sexual assault. The bill does not limit the right of a defendant or the government to examine witnesses in court of law.
Several other public safety bills that were drafted or introduced by Attorney General Herring or his staff have passed the General Assembly, including measures to crack down on synthetic drugs, protect the addresses of stalking victims, make 911 calls easier to use in court proceedings, and phase out "fox penning." Additional legislation remains before the General Assembly.