What makes Virginia criminal laws unique?
Thomas Soldan: There are a lot of reasons why Virginia criminal laws are unique. There are a lot of interesting nuances to Virginia law. The fact that a conviction is forever under Virginia law makes Virginia criminal law very high stakes. We also have some of the most serious penalties for drug offenses and drunk driving offenses than anywhere else in the United States.
As someone who practices only in Virginia, something else that I did not realize was unique about our laws until recently is that we have jury trials that also include sentencing. A lot of states have active criminal jury dockets, but Virginia is one of the few states where a jury does the punishment phase as well as the guilt phase. That certainly creates a different dynamic for the decisions that criminal defendants make in choosing between types of trials because if they are found guilty by a jury then a jury will do the sentencing as well. Judges still ratify the jury’s recommendation, but the jury makes the initial decision without the benefit of sentencing guidelines.