Mount Vernon Letter: Why Change Felony Status?

Mount Vernon Letter: Why Change Felony Status?

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

In last week's Gazette, I pointed out that the two most important issues our representatives in Richmond should be concentrating on are education and transportation. Throughout the month of January, state Sen. Scott Surovell has had weekly columns in the Gazette in which he explains to readers his legislative agenda. I reviewed those columns, and did not find any mention of Senate Bill No. 23, for which Senator Surovell and his fellow senator and law partner Chap Petersen are two of the chief co-sponsors. This Bill proposes to increase the dollar threshold transforming a crime from a misdemeanor to a felony to $500 from its current level of $200.

Here is the list of crimes Senator Surovell proposes to remove from felony status unless the amount exceeds $499: Conspiring to trespass or commit larceny; burning or destroying any other building or structure; burning or destroying personal property; grand larceny; larceny of animals; unauthorized use of animal, aircraft, vehicle or boat; concealing or taking possession of merchandise, altering price tags, transferring goods from one container to another; larceny with intent to sell or distribute and sale of stolen property; damaging or destroying research farm product; willfully destroying vessel; computer fraud; damage or trespass to public services or utilities; issuing bad checks; false statements to obtain property or credit; identity theft; obtaining or attempting to obtain utilities without payment; defrauding hotels, motels, campgrounds or boardinghouses; credit card fraud; fraudulently applying for credit card; criminally receiving goods and services fraudulently obtained. Amazing!

I am aware that the $200 threshold has been in place for a number of years. This does not excuse Senator Surovell from prioritizing such a proposal over the more important needs of our community. The reality of life in the criminal justice system is that many alleged crimes are plea bargained. Under the current laws, if someone steals your wallet and it has $201 in it, the prosecutor can allege a felony which gives them leverage to negotiate a plea bargain more favorable to the citizens. Were Senator Surovell's proposal to be enacted into law, that same alleged criminal would start the plea bargaining process with only a potential misdemeanor. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of the plea bargaining process. Anyone can see that this proposal would make criminal activity less risky.

The Virginia Trial Lawyers Association contributed $8,500 to Senator Surovell's campaign and $6,000 to Senator Petersen's campaign. One wonders whether Senate Bill No. 23 is the repayment by the senators to the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.

Scott Surovell was among the first to urge Governor McDonnell to resign after allegations arose that he had engaged in a quid pro quo with a business owner that included over $100,000 in gifts. That case is now on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court. Perhaps Senators Surovell and Petersen should be similarly investigated for the possible quid pro quo identified above.

I note that the House of Delegates has a corresponding Bill on its docket, HB 396. The Legislative Information System reports that on Jan. 25 the House Subcommittee on Criminal Law recommended tabling the Bill which would prevent it from becoming law. Thank goodness the House of Delegates understood the danger to citizens of relaxing the felony threshold in Virginia. Why didn't the senators? And why hasn't Senator Surovell explained his sponsorship of this bill in the Gazette?

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon