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Nancy  Madsen
By Nancy Madsen November 24, 2012

Watered-down law is enacted

Youths with felony convictions for violence and drug dealing should be tried as if they were adults for repeat crimes, Bob McDonnell said during his gubernatorial campaign.

McDonnell released a public safety plan in August 2009 that contained this promise:

"McDonnell will propose expanding the juvenile transfer statute to require juveniles charged with repeat violent felonies to be tried as adults in circuit court. Further, McDonnell will recommend statutory changes, allowing prosecutors the discretion to transfer repeat juvenile drug dealers and gang members to circuit court for trial as an adult. This will provide an additional tool for prosecutors to better protect their communities. It will also allow prosecutors to evaluate the threat level associated with these juvenile gang members and repeat drug dealers.”

Shortly after becoming governor in January 2010, McDonnell endorsed a Senate bill that would have allowed youths 14 or older to be tried as adults for repeat offenses involving violence, drug dealing or gang activities. The Senate tabled the bill and referred it to the Virginia Crime Commission for a year of study.

In 2011, the measure was defeated by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

Early this year, the House passed a bill that would make youths 14 or older eligible for adult trial for second offenses or more for violent crimes, selling drugs (including marijuana and anabolic steroids) and gang activities within 1,000 feet of schools or community centers.

The Senate approved a watered-down version of the bill that makes 14-year-olds eligible for adult trial for third offenses for drug dealing. Gang activities and repeat violent crime were stripped from the legislation.

McDonnell signed the amended bill and it became law on July 1. Paul Logan, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email that McDonnell preferred the tougher measure passed by the House but backed the amended version "to ensure that repeat drug dealers, even juvenile repeat drug dealers are punished appropriately.”

No doubt, McDonnell kept his campaign pledge to propose legislation expanding the state's ability to try juvenile felons as adults for repeat crimes. That earns a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

McDonnell, "McDonnell for Governor public safety plan,” August 2009.

Senate Finance Committee, Summary of McDonnell's 2012-14 proposals for public safety, accessed Nov. 19, 2012.

Email from McDonnell spokesman Paul Logan, Nov. 20, 2012.

Legislative Information System, 2010 SB 389, accessed Nov. 20, 2012.

LIS, 2010 HB 569, accessed Nov. 20, 2012.

LIS, 2011 SB 914, accessed Nov. 20, 2012.

LIS, 2012 SB 419, accessed Nov. 20, 2012.

LIS, 2012 HB 718, accessed Nov. 20, 2012.

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