The Washington Post reported that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has reached a bipartisan agreement with Republican leaders in the General Assembly that presents a mixture of good and bad news for criminal justice reform. On one hand, the agreement will raise the threshold for felony theft or larceny offenses from the current level of $200 to $500, bringing Virginia closer to the national standard. Virginia has not raised that limit since the 1980s, when $200 was obviously worth much more than today. While most states have set the threshold that leads to a felony conviction at $1,000, Virginia has long resisted increasing that value. Now, under this agreement, theft offenses involving amounts below $500 will be punishable as misdemeanors rather than felonies.
On the other hand, however, the agreement includes amending current laws on restitution to victims of crime to mandate that defendants must remain on probation until all restitution claims have been paid in full. Under current law, defendants often are relieved of probation despite having a continuing obligation to pay restitution, which is often paid under a monthly payment plan. The amendment that Governor Northam apparently backs now would effectively punish individuals with lesser financial abilities by imposing lengthier ongoing probation until they finish paying off restitution.
In light of the anticipated changes to restitution rules, it is important before accepting a plea offer or entering a guilty plea to make sure you discuss with your attorney the impact of any restitution claims, and your ability to pay them, on how long you can expect to remain on probation.