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‘Actual reticence’ – House puts off action on innocence bill

A measure to reform Virginia’s actual innocence procedure has been sent back to a General Assembly workshop, possibly for additional tinkering.

Faced with a floor amendment, the House of Delegates voted to re-refer the measure to the House Courts committee for further study.

The legislation – House Bill 1432 – is aimed at fine tuning the process for relief from wrongful convictions under Virginia law.

The amendment offered Monday by Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Henrico, would allow a convict a second chance to petition for a writ of actual innocence in non-DNA cases if the state agreed. The change was suggested by Prof. Mary Kelly Tate at the University of Richmond law school, Morrissey said.

“If it’s unquestioned that the person is innocent, why would you limit them to one bite of the apple,” Morrissey said, explaining Tate’s suggestion.

Under Morrissey’s floor amendment, a second or subsequent writ could be filed only with the “consent and concurrence” of the commonwealth’s attorney.

Skepticism about the amendment led to a motion to re-refer the entire issue to committee. The reform bill approved unanimously by the Courts Committee Jan. 23 was the product of months of discussion, including consideration of the “second bite” issue, argued Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, in recommending re-referral. He said bill sponsor Del. David Albo, R-Springfield, concurred in his recommendation for another look in committee.

Despite a plea from Morrissey not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” the bill was re-referred on a voice vote.

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