On a straight party-line vote, the Virginia Senate approved a bill that would make many assaults against police misdemeanors. The current law requires a mandatory six-month sentence for assaulting a cop, but Democrats want to eliminate that requirement and give judges wide discretion in determining how serious the attack is.
Assault with bodily injury on a police officer would still be considered a felony.
Republicans claim the bill sends entirely the wrong message at a time when police have become targets of the mob. Democrats say that the legislation, which would allow judges to reduce the assault charge to a misdemeanor doesn’t minimize the crime whatsoever. It just draws a distinction between “serious assaults” and “minor assaults.”
The bill keeps the charge as a felony, but gives a judge or jury discretion to reduce it to a misdemeanor if there is no bodily injury or if someone’s culpability is slight because of diminished physical or mental capacity or a developmental disorder.
If the charge is brought as a felony, it requires an investigation by a different police officer and must be approved by a Commonwealth’s Attorney.
At the very least, this bill diminishes respect for the police—and the law—making their jobs even more hazardous. It’s also an open invitation to defense lawyers to minimize the seriousness of attacks on police.
Sen. Scott Surovell, who proposed the bill, said it is not meant to address serious physical assaults on police, which can be prosecuted under the state’s malicious wounding law and carry a two-year mandatory minimum sentence.
“What we’re talking about here are situations that involve much more insignificant minor touches,” Surovell said.
Can you push a cop? Can you throw him out of the way? I’d like to know what the senator considers “insignificant minor touches.” I bet his definition is a lot different than the average police officer’s definition of what a “minor touch” might be.
Republicans were aghast.
“What in the world are we doing?” said Sen. John Cosgrove Jr. “Have you seen the attacks on police officers?”
Sen. Amanda Chase called the legislation “an attack on our law enforcement” and said it sends a message to criminals “that we’re going to stand back.”
Democrats have certainly seen the attacks on police and are worried that too many “peaceful protesters” end up serving time because they might have pushed or hit a police officer—but not too hard. They say it’s “justifiable” to push an officer if, in the performance of his duties, he physically pushes a protester after giving several warnings to step back. What the Democratic bill does is make it much harder for police to keep order.
Eventually, cops are going to have to consult a long list of guidelines for when they can lay hands on a suspect, or when a suspect can lay hands on them. Some Broadway musicals won’t be as carefully choreographed as confrontations between police and protesters.
The point is to tie the hands of police, to cause them to hesitate or to doubt, in situations that call for instinctive reactions. It’s going to get some good cops killed and probably make others less certain of applying the necessary force to keep order.