Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli today announced the creation of a bipartisan Attorney General’s Rights Restoration Advisory Committee tasked with examining what alternatives may be available within the existing framework of the Constitution of Virginia to restore the civil rights – primarily voting rights – of individuals convicted of certain nonviolent felonies who have completed their sentences and paid all fines and court-ordered restitution.
“Ever since I was in the Virginia Senate, I have expressed a deep concern about unnecessarily ratcheting up several low-level offenses from misdemeanors to felonies – what I have called ‘felony creep.’ There are many people in our communities who have committed certain low-level, nonviolent offenses in the past, paid their debts to society, and then gone on to live law-abiding lives. There should be a way for willing individuals who want to regain their place in society to be forgiven, be given a second chance, and to pursue a path to regain their civil rights,” Cuccinelli said.
“We must be tough on crime, but part of a successful criminal justice system includes redemption and reentry into society. In my view, that benefits society as a whole by potentially reducing recidivism.”
Currently, the one way in Virginia former nonviolent felons may regain their civil rights is by seeking restoration through the governor. Governor McDonnell made significant progress in streamlining the current process for gubernatorial clemency, and he made a concerted effort to restore the rights of more former offenders than any other governor in Virginia’s history. The attorney general is concerned that rights restoration efforts may not receive the same priority in future administrations, and therefore, he is asking his committee to examine initiatives that might allow for a more extensive and permanent rights restoration process after former offenders meet certain objective criteria.
To date, reform efforts have focused on seeking an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia, which now provides that “[n]o person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority.” The advisory committee will consider alternatives that would be permissible under the current constitution.
“Many of those who helped found Virginia came to the New World for a second chance. Forgiveness and redemption are fundamental values of all great religions and all great societies. There are certainly those who have forfeited their right to any such mercy by their violent and heinous deeds. But there are others who may deserve a second chance under the right circumstances. This is a value I believe speaks to the best in our commonwealth and our country,” said Cuccinelli.
Members of the Attorney General’s Rights Restoration Advisory Committee represent a broad spectrum of perspectives on this issue and some do not necessarily share the attorney general’s view on the subject. The members are:
Harvey L. Bryant
Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney
Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney
K. Anne Gambrill Gentry
Assistant attorney general, associate university counsel, George Mason University
Former senior advisor to Governor L. Douglas Wilder
Henry E. “Hank” Howell, III
The Eminent Domain Litigation Group, PLC
Donald E. Santarelli
President, Center for Community Corrections
Ashley L. Taylor, Jr.
Former deputy attorney general
Former commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights