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Proposal to ‘Defelonize’ Assault on a Police Officer Dies in Committee

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Sen. Scott Surovell. (AP Pool Photo: Bob Brown/Richmond Times Dispatch)

A bill that would have reduced the punishment for assaulting a police officer failed to pass a House committee on Tuesday. 

Right now, state law says anyone who is convicted of assaulting a law enforcement officer is guilty of a Class 6 felony, which comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in jail, even in cases where the officer wasn’t injured. 

During the meeting, Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), the bill’s sponsor, said the felony charge of assaulting a police officer in Virginia is overused and abused -- and falls hardest on people who are mentally ill.  

“This is the only crime on the books where the same person is the victim, the lead investigator, the lead witness and the charging police officer,” Surovell said. 

Surovell said people are sometimes charged with a felony for spitting at, or in one case, launching an onion ring at an officer.  

And that’s backed up by data. According to Virginia State Police, the vast majority of those assaults do not result in a significant injury to the officer. While Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) said he agreed with the concept of the bill, he said it wasn’t quite ready to become law. 

“I’d like to get us to a place where we can vote on a great bill that eliminates the mandatory minimums, really captures the essence of what we know is happening,” Bourne said. 

The House Courts of Justice Committee voted against the bill, opting to have the state Crime Commission study it.