For all of Virginia’s history, the Commonwealth has used jury sentencing in criminal trials. This use of jury sentencing in criminal trials appears to be nearing the end. With a vote in the House of Delegates on October 23, 2020, Virginia is finally poised to follow what most states do and only allow the jury to determine the guilt and innocence of a person. A judge will now handle the sentencing of a defendant. Specifically, the bill “provide[s] for jury sentencing in non-capital cases only when the accused has requested that the jury ascertain punishment.” It is expected that Defendants will overwhelmingly prefer to be sentenced a judge instead of a jury, so this bill will greatly reduce jury sentencing and the costs associated with it. It is the belief that this bill will allow for more fairness in the criminal justice system by taking away some of a prosecutor’s bargaining power because being sentenced by a jury is seen as harsher than being sentenced by the judge.

The passage of this bill likely means that there will be an increase in the number of criminal trials that occur throughout the state. Currently, only 1.9 percent of all criminal cases actually go to trial. The thought is that if prosecutors cannot bargain for plea agreements with the fear of a harsh jury sentence then more defendants will be willing to go to trial. The people who will be most affected by this new change will be those who were on the fence of going to trial but were worried about a much higher sentence because of jury sentencing.  While this may seem like massive radical change, in reality this new bill just brings Virginia in line with what 48 other states already do.