Stop the Unfair Sentencing Trap in VA (FISHBACK & SENTENCING DISPARITY)

Stop the Unfair Sentencing Trap in VA (FISHBACK & SENTENCING DISPARITY)

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Bernard Brown started this petition to Virginia State House and

I made this campaign on behalf of my cousin who is incarcerated in Virginia.  Virginia abolished parole in 1995 leaving many incarcerated individuals with no options other than the sentence they were given, which in many cases the sentences were not reduced to reflect the lack of parole. During this time Jury members were not made aware of the law change so large number year sentences were still being given out and not adjusted accordingly to fit there no longer being an option of parole. recently a Bill was passed named the FISHBACK BILL. This Bill states that anyone sentenced within the years of 1995 to 2000 could now be eligible for parole under Virginia law. Inmates however are still fighting and being passed over for parole even thought this bill to protect them was passed. They are left suffering longer sentences without any consideration under the new bill. This is affecting inmates across Virginia including my cousin. We Need Change Now!!

 

Here is my cousin's plea and story.....

 I am Jei Roebuck #1086902 I've been in the Virginia prison system for the past 25 years and 10 months. I was sentenced to life plus 56 years. the 56 years was for murder and the life sentence was for robbery. Yeah unbalanced, I know...  There has been a law passed this past year which gives me some relief and somewhat of a chance at a normal life. the bill is called the Fishback Bill.  the bill states anyone from 1995 to 2000 that had a jury trial will be given a chance at parole. Due to the fact that parole in Virginia had been abolished.  Due to this new bill I went up for parole last year and was denied do to the nature of my crime and my history of violence, which is only the crime I am locked up for. They said I haven't done enough time, regardless of the new bill that was passed! I cant change my past can't but my future hasn't been written just yet. I can make a great change and difference in my future as well as being present for my family given the chance. My time in prison has not been a repeat of my past in anyway. I have kept my head up and my record clean.  Any and all programs that the state has allowed me to take to better myself I've taken. I am asking for the chance to make good on the life given to me but for some reason this new bill is being ignored for my case. If there is anyone out there that can aid me in getting some relief or legal help with this new bill that was passed it would be greatly appreciated. YOURS TRULY MR.JEI ROEBUCK...

Parole in Virginia was abolished in 1995, with the implementation of "Truth-in-sentencing" (no parole). Twenty years later, with little to none needed oversight, two (2) systematic sentencing errors/injustices affecting thousands has been allowed to continue and remain uncorrected. Ever

Jury Trial/Fishback: Between 1995 and 2000, juries were imposing sentences without knowing that Virginia abolished parole in 1995. Jurors were not informed even in cases when panels asked if there was parole. Jurors had to make crucial sentence decisions without having all the pertinent information. This created sentencing disparities. Some jurors have publicly stated they would have imposed shorter sentences had they known parole was abolished. Not until June 9, 2000, the Appellate court ruling in favor of prisoner, Richard Fishback v. Commonwealth, 260 Va. 104, 532 S.E. 2d 629 a new sentence did this erred judgment came to light. The Supreme Court stated that it “simply defies reason” not to give jurors the information that parole was abolished. However, its ruling did not apply to sentences already imposed (retroactive). Today over 300 "Fishback" eligible cases remain uncorrected, whereas, the incarcerated individuals languish in prison awaiting Virginia legislatures to take action and apply fair sentence. The Virginia legislature has the power to correct this 20-year sentence error that remains uncorrected. We the resident in Virginia support a "special circumstances" parole eligibility with the incorporation the defendant's original sentence guideline (court sealed) to determine a fair and equity sentence.

After a brief discussion of the questions with both counsel, the trial court indicated that it would “propose giving the model [jury] instruction” the Commonwealth had prepared.   This instruction stated that “ [h]aving found [Fishback] guilty, you should impose such punishment as you feel is just under the evidence and within the instructions of the Court.   You are not to concern yourselves with what may happen afterwards.”   Fishback's counsel did not object to this instruction or renew her request that the trial court instruct the jury that parole had been abolished.

After further deliberations, the jury returned verdicts sentencing Fishback to terms of imprisonment of thirty years for robbery, seven years for each of the abductions, and a total of eighteen years for the firearm offenses.   Following receipt of a pre-sentence report, the trial court imposed the jury's sentences to run consecutively, but suspended fifty-one years of the sentences on condition that Fishback serve ten years probation following his release.

Fishback filed a petition for appeal in the Court of Appeals asserting issues related to the sufficiency of the evidence to prove abduction and the firearm offenses predicated on abduction, the denial of a suppression motion, the refusal of an instruction defining abduction, and the refusal of the instruction concerning the abolition of parole.   By order dated November 13, 1998, the Court of Appeals awarded an appeal for the first four of these issues, but denied an appeal on the parole issue.   In that order, the Court of Appeals, quoting from Briscoe v. Commonwealth, 26 Va.App. 415, 417, 494 S.E.2d 898, 899 (1998), noted that it had previously held that “a trial court is not required to instruct the jury on a defendant's eligibility for parole in non-capital cases.”   After oral argument on the issues for which an appeal had been awarded, the Court of Appeals affirmed Fishback's convictions in an unpublished opinion.  Fishback v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1377-98-4, 1999 WL 1129966 (June 15, 1999).

However, it is equally clear, as we have noted, that it would be inaccurate to inform a jury that a defendant convicted of a non-capital felony would not be eligible for early release in every instance.   Indeed, for every person convicted of a non-capital felony offense committed on or after January 1, 1995, the provisions of Code § 53.1-40.01 and Code §§ 53.1-202.2 et seq. are implicated and conditionally provide for forms of early release and sentence reduction.   Because such early release and sentence reduction provisions are not mandatory, the policy concerns underlying the Coward rule logically remain viable, although to a lesser extent.   Nonetheless, because those statutory provisions represent a clear departure from the broad discretion given to the executive branch under the prior law with regard to early release and sentence reduction, we believe that strict adherence to the Coward rule is no longer appropriate.

 

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