RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia's attorney general says a little-noticed 1999 law bars judges from allowing felons to serve their jail terms just on weekends.
According to Virginia Lawyers Weekly ( http://bit.ly/MRI8no), the Virginia Beach sheriff's office brought the law to the attention of the local prosecutor, who requested an opinion from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Defense lawyers say weekend jail time is routinely allowed in many jurisdictions, including Virginia Beach, as a way to let defendants provide child care or keep jobs that will allow them to pay fines and court costs.
In his recent opinion, Cuccinelli said the 1999 law allows weekend-only jail time for misdemeanors, but not felonies.
"I don't guess it was on a lot of people's radar," Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney Harvey Bryant said of the statute. He said that based on Cuccinelli's opinion, his office will now oppose weekend time for felons.
Some judges might not be receptive to the prosecutor's position and may find a way around the law, defense lawyer Moody E. "Sonny" Stallings of Virginia Beach said. For example, a judge confronted with an objection to weekend jail for a felony defendant might suspend all official jail time, conditioned on the defendant reporting to jail for the next five weekends, he said.
Or, a judge who believes the loss of a job would be an unwarranted penalty might simply forgo jail time.
"It might just backfire on the commonwealth," he said.
Not every jurisdiction will feel an impact from Cuccinelli's opinion. In both Botetourt County and Henry County, for instance, prosecutors report the sheriffs discourage any weekend jail terms because of security concerns.
"The more you check into the jail, the more likely you'll be able to successfully smuggle something into the jail, based on experience," said Henry County Commonwealth's Attorney Bob Bushnell.
Information from: Virginia Lawyers Weekly, http://www.valawyersweekly.com
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