The latest General Assembly effort to limit deferral of decisions on criminal matters comes from Del. David Albo. chair of the House Courts Committee.
Albo, R-Fairfax, has introduced House Bill 51 to give judges 72 hours to convict or acquit in criminal cases, unless both sides agree to waive the deadline. Judges also could notify the parties if circumstances required additional time for a decision.
Albo says the bill, in response to the Supreme Court’s Hernandez opinion, was suggested by Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Fisher.
The Hernandez opinion suggests criminal judges have the inherent power to delay final decisions in criminal cases. Some legislators are concerned about judges who use that authority to ultimately dismiss charges even when the evidence establishes guilt.
Albo said HB51 is just one suggestion for addressing the Hernandez issue, adding it is possible no legislative fix will be necessary in light of the Court of Appeals’ decision in Taylor v. Commonwealth. The Taylor court found the trial judge had no authority to acquit a defendant after finding proof of guilt.
Other bills of interest already in the hopper:
-HB45 would expand the law allowing court postponements for General Assembly members to lawyers who get elected while a case is pending. Currently, the law applies only to a lawyer who was in the Assembly when hired by the client. The bill is sponsored by Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem.
-Habeeb also introduced HB16 providing for automatic restoration of civil rights for some ex-offenders.
-Albo is backing two bills to increase the minimum penalty for drivers convicted of DUI-manslaughter and DUI-Maiming. Albo said he is appalled at the light sentences some defendants get. “I think if you’re drunk and you kill someone, a year is a joke,” Albo said.
-HB44 would allow interest an an award of expenses to a lawyer for a workers’ compensation claimant.