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For Immediate Release

LAJC Commends Attorney General Herring’s Decision 

Charlottesville, Virginia (August 2, 2019) – The Legal Aid Justice Center commends Attorney General Herring for his decision today accepting the Fourth Circuit’s ruling regarding invalidating Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” regime.  

“We look forward to working with Virginia to implement constructive programs to address homelessness and addiction in our state, such as expanding Housing First and Addiction Recovery Treatment Services.  We also express our deep appreciation for our pro bono partner and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty for their indispensable assistance on this critical matter,” said Elaine Poon of the Legal Aid Justice Center.

“We are thrilled that Attorney General Herring has let the court decision striking down this antiquated law stand,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “We can all agree that no one wants to see homeless people with alcoholism on the streets, but law enforcement and public health experts agree that housing, not handcuffs, is the best, most cost-effective way of making that happen. While we celebrate today’s advancement, we look forward to working with Virginia’s legislature and executive to put those housing solutions in place-the true victory will come when all those who need housing have it.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact:
Elaine Poon, Managing Attorney
434-529-1816 elaine@justice4all.org

FOURTH CIRCUIT STRIKES DOWN UNCONSTITUTIONAL “HABITUAL DRUNKARD” STATUTE

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, July 16, 2019 — Today in Manning v. Caldwell, the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, struck down Virginia’s statutory scheme that permitted the state to interdict and prosecute people as “habitual drunkards”—a practice that unjustly targets Virginians with alcoholism who are also homeless. The Legal Aid Justice Center and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP brought this challenge on behalf of several Plaintiffs arguing that the statute singles them out for incarceration based on their disease and their homeless status in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Fourth Circuit agreed.

The Court ruled that the term “habitual drunkard” is unconstitutionally vague under the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. It found that the statute failed to provide fair notice to the public, “imposing criminal penalties on an untold number of chronically ill citizens.” The Court agreed that such vague language in a criminal statute invited arbitrary enforcement and allows for the state to “target persons, including the homeless, that state officials deem undesirable.”

Further, the Court agreed with Plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment challenge, affirming a central Constitutional value that one cannot be punished for who they are rather than what they have done. The Court stated, “What the Eighth Amendment cannot tolerate is the targeted criminalization of otherwise legal behavior that is an involuntary manifestation of an illness.”

The Legal Aid Justice Center applauded this landmark decision by the Court. “It is clear that the Court understood the heart of the issues — that the Constitution cannot allow for the criminalization of illness and homelessness. We look forward to telling our clients about this victory, so that they can pursue their lives without the constant fear of arrest and prosecution,” said Elaine Poon of the Legal Aid Justice Center.

“We are thrilled the majority in the 4th Circuit agreed with the position in our amicus, and the one affirmed in the 9th Circuit’s decision in Martin v. Boise, that it is cruel and unusual to punish homeless individuals for involuntary conduct that must take place in public because they do not have an adequate alternative,” said Eric Tars, legal director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “Virginia’s cities, and other cities in the 4th Circuit, should take heed that if they want to reduce the negative impacts of homelessness on their community, the most effective, most cost-effective, and most constitutional way to do so is providing adequate housing and services. Using the criminal justice system to deal with a social service failure is not an option.”

Jonathan Marcus of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP argued the case and stated, “we applaud the Court of Appeals’ decision that Virginia’s habitual drunkard regime is unconstitutional. It is an important victory for those who suffer from the illness of alcoholism. We look forward to the development of humane and constructive solutions to the serious problems of homelessness and alcoholism that are called for by this decision.

4th Circuit Rehearing Opinion (PDF)

Background
In March 2016, the Legal Aid Justice Center of Virginia (LAJC) and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP filed a class action lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” statute, to the extent it criminalizes the possession or consumption of alcohol by homeless individuals suffering from alcoholism. The complaint asserts that Commonwealth’s Attorneys Offices across Virginia have used the state’s outdated “habitual drunkard” statute, or Interdiction Statute (Va. Code §§ 4.1,-305, 4.1-322, and 4.1-333), to repeatedly incarcerate homeless individuals, violating their constitutional rights by punishing homeless alcoholics for having the disease of alcoholism. It also violates their right to due process by criminalizing the possession or consumption of alcohol—an otherwise lawful activity—without required constitutional protections. The complaint also challenges the statute as unconstitutionally vague because it fails to define “habitual drunkard” and encourages arbitrary police enforcement. Virginia’s antiquated interdiction law imposes penalties far beyond the state law prohibiting public intoxication, which results in only a small fine. The Interdiction Statute, by contrast, allows a Commonwealth’s attorney to petition the circuit court to declare someone a “habitual drunkard.” Once given this stigmatizing label, that person is subject to up to a year in jail if caught simply possessing alcohol.
About the Legal Aid Justice Center

The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, workers’ rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.

For Immediate Release:

Contact
Tim Wallace, Director of Development
434-529-1853
twallace@justice4all.org

PLAINTIFFS’ STATEMENT ON THE FOURTH CIRCUIT DECISION IN MANNING V. CALDWELL

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, August 8, 2018 — Today a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Manning v. Caldwell, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” statute, which criminalizes the possession or consumption of alcohol by homeless alcoholics. The panel affirmed the decision of the district court dismissing the case.  Nevertheless, one of the judges stated in an opinion concurring in the judgment only that “[a]bsent binding circuit precedent, I would hold that [the Plaintiffs]… have alleged an Eighth Amendment violation.

Despite recognizing that “it is the practice of totalitarian regimes, not our free society, to substitute a personal characteristic for a prohibited act,” two of the three judges on the panel nonetheless found that Virginia’s interdiction statute—which relies on personal characteristics, namely alcohol addiction and homelessness, to punish the otherwise innocent activity of adult possession or consumption of alcohol—was constitutional because, in their view, it criminalizes acts, not status.

In a strongly worded opinion siding with the Plaintiffs, Judge Motz vehemently disagreed, observing that “the Commonwealth’s statutory scheme effectively targets and punishes homeless alcoholics based on their illness.” Judge Motz’s opinion states unequivocally that Virginia’s interdiction statute is unconstitutional. She concurred in the judgment “with reluctance and regret” only because of Fourth Circuit rules preventing the panel from overturning prior, even if erroneous, circuit precedent, which the panel majority itself acknowledged did not properly apply Supreme Court precedent.

“The Fourth Circuit’s decision today perpetuates an antiquated law that brands people and singles them out for punishment based on a disease,” said Elaine Poon, managing attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center, “We will keep fighting to win relief for the thousands of people who are guilty of nothing more than being homeless and addicted to alcohol.”

The legal team is considering petitioning for en banc review by the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Today’s decision is here.

Background:
In March 2016, the Legal Aid Justice Center of Virginia (LAJC) and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP filed a class action lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” statute, to the extent it criminalizes the possession or consumption of alcohol by homeless individuals suffering from alcoholism. The complaint asserts that Commonwealth’s Attorneys Offices across Virginia have used the state’s outdated “habitual drunkard” statute, or Interdiction Statute (Va. Code § 4.1-322), to repeatedly incarcerate homeless individuals, violating their constitutional rights by punishing homeless alcoholics for having the disease of alcoholism. It also violates their right to due process by criminalizing the possession or consumption of alcohol—an otherwise lawful activity—without required constitutional protections. The complaint also challenges the statute as unconstitutionally vague because it fails to define “habitual drunkard” and encourages arbitrary police enforcement. Virginia’s antiquated interdiction law imposes penalties far beyond the state law prohibiting public intoxication, which results in only a small fine. The Interdiction Statute, by contrast, allows a Commonwealth’s attorney to petition the circuit court to declare someone a “habitual drunkard.” Once given this stigmatizing label, that person is subject to up to a year in jail if caught simply possessing alcohol.

To read more about the lawsuit, or to download the briefs, go to https://www.justice4all.org/?s=drunkard .

About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide. 

Federal Class Action Challenges Antiquated Virginia “Habitual Drunkard” Law That Jails Homeless Individuals

The Legal Aid Justice Center and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP filed a class action lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” statute, to the extent it criminalizes the possession or consumption of alcohol by homeless alcoholics.

The complaint asserts that Commonwealth’s Attorneys Offices across Virginia have used the state’s outdated “habitual drunkard” statute, or Interdiction Statute (Va. Code § 4.1-322), to repeatedly incarcerate homeless individuals, violating their constitutional rights by punishing homeless alcoholics for having the disease of alcoholism. It also violates their right to due process by criminalizing the possession or consumption of alcohol – an otherwise lawful activity – without required constitutional protections. The complaint also challenges the statute as unconstitutionally vague because it fails to define “habitual drunkard” and encourages arbitrary police enforcement.

Resources
Full Complaint (PDF)
Press Release (PDF)
Fact Sheet (PDF)

Media Coverage
Charlottesville Group Challenging ‘Habitual Drunkard’ Law (WVIR-TV NBC29, 3/3/16)
Challenging a State Law that Jails Alcoholics (WVTR-Radio IQ, 3/3/16)
LAJC Challenges Habitual Drunkard Statute (CBS19 Newsplex, 3/3/16)
Lawsuit Seeks to End Jail Time for the Homeless (Roanoke Times, 3/3/16)
Lawsuit: Officials Use Statute to Punish Homeless Alcoholics (The Virginia-Pilot, 3/4/16)
Attorneys File Class-Action Lawsuit Against Virginia’s ‘Habitual Drunkard’ Laws (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/6/16)

In the midst of a crisis, it can be hard to talk about anything else, but we wanted to take a minute and share with you some truly transformational outcomes from our advocacy efforts at the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session that ended on March 12. Your support helped make all of this possible.
  
This year we worked with legislators to introduce over 30 bills and budget amendments and served in leading roles with coalition partners on six others. LAJC also engaged on over a dozen other bills related to our priorities, supporting organizations and legislators on their agendas. The results are a significant step forward in our efforts to the dismantle systems that perpetuate poverty in Virginia.     
 
Here are some highlights: 
 
   
Challenging Court Debt, Pretrial Detention, and the Criminalization of Poverty
  
 
WIN – The legislature voted to repeal the unconstitutional “Habitual Drunkard” statute that had primarily targeted people experiencing homeless and struggling with alcohol, criminalizing them because of their illness.   
 
WINS – After a multi-year LAJC campaign that paired litigation and legislative advocacy, Virginia will permanently end the suspension of driver’s licenses due to unpaid court debt. LAJC also led a successful effort on a second bill that repeals the 10-day mandatory minimum sentence given to drivers for a third or subsequent conviction of driving with a suspended license.  
 

PROGRESS – Our bills addressing pretrial detention did not pass as written, but we did win compromise legislation allowing magistrates to override a presumption of mandatory detention without having to seek approval from the Commonwealth’s Attorney. The bill seeking data collection and transparency in our pretrial process also did not pass, but the final budget contains language to set up a plan to create a pilot data collection tool.

 
 
Immigrant Virginians: Protecting Rights, Health and Safety, Education
  
 
WIN – The legislature passed the bills to permit in-state tuition for any student who attended at least two years of high school in Virginia and graduates from high school in Virginia or attains a GED in the Commonwealth, regardless of immigration status.  
 
WIN + MORE WORK TO DO – The years long efforts to make it legal for immigrants to drive in Virginia has passed and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. The law creates Driver’s Privilege Cards as opposed to our original demand of Virginia driver’s licenses for all. The coalition plans to continue the fight continues full drivers’ licenses and for increased privacy protections for those enrolled.   
 
WIN + MORE WORK TO DO – The bills to end the mandate that local and state law-enforcement report immigration statuses to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did pass, though it was amended from our original recommendation. Localities will no longer be required to report on those arrested on misdemeanor charges, though felony charge reporting is still the law.     
 
MORE WORK TO DO – Minimum wage reform bills have passed this session and while we applaud the raising of the wage for workers across the state, we are extremely disappointed that farmworkers were once again left out of these important bills. Also left unfinished, with the bills being continued to the 2021 session, were our efforts to gain new protections for outdoor workers—including migrant farmworkers—to ensure better health and safety conditions for these positions.   
   
 
 
Education Equity and Youth Justice Reform
  
 
WIN – The House and Senate passed bills that will ensure that all students in Virginia, whether in school, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event, cannot be criminalized for “disorderly conduct.”     
 
WINS – All four bills addressing school policing have passed. One will open up data to the public on School Resource Officers’ (SRO) interactions with students, one increases and improves training for SROs, another increases how frequently agreements between schools and security agencies are reviewed, and the final makes it discretionary whether school administrators report a range of misdemeanors and status offenses to law enforcement.  
   
WINS – A bill to assure that school dress codes include anti-discrimination protections based on race and ethnicity, and another bill that extends educational stability protections to students in foster care up to age 22—helping those who age out of care at age 18 but are still pursuing their high school education—have both passed.    
 
PROGRESS – The legislation we helped champion that would have mandated Virginia fund our public K-12 educational system to match the recommendations made by the Board of Education’s Standards of Quality did not survive this session, though some aspects of our bills were included in the budget (though not always to the levels we had hoped), including an increase in the number of school counselors and ESL teachers, more funds for students from low-income families, and a 2% pay increase for teachers & certain designated staff with an additional 2% the following year.    
 
WINS – We worked with the administration and legislators to win three important bills to stem the flow of youth into deeper incarceration: one provides eligibility for parole to any youth convicted as an adult who has served at least 20 years of incarceration (and will be applied retroactively); one allows judges to ignore mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for youth; and a third eliminates both automatic and prosecutorial transfer of 14- and 15-year-old youth to adult court.  
  
 
 
Improving Housing Stability and Tenants’ Rights
   
 
WIN – The House and Senate passed a bill to include the city of Charlottesville in a statute that provides certain localities in the Commonwealth with broad powers to design innovative affordable housing solutions.   
 

WIN – LAJC worked alongside Virginia Poverty Law Center advocates to help secure passage of critical legislation to ensure residents have 12 months’ notice of any intent to sell or demolish the public housing where they reside.  

  
These successes are the result of years of advocacy and none would have been possible without your support and without the tremendous efforts made by community members, partner organizations, and legislators from across the Commonwealth who championed—and continue to support—our work.
   
 
Of course, there is still much more to do, and we will be ready for next year’s session to continue the fight for more justice and less poverty. 

Crossover

 

We are halfway through the 2020 Virginia legislative session, and the bills that have passed through both the House and Senate have now “crossed over” to be considered in the opposite chamber. LAJC is happy to report that a majority of the legislation that we have supported is still up for consideration this year, including:

     

Pretrial Detention and Decriminalizing Poverty

The unconstitutional “Habitual Drunkard” statute is one step closer to finally being removed from the Virginia Code after a bill repealing it was approved in the House.  

Identical versions of our bill to permanently eliminate the practice of suspending driver’s licenses due to unpaid court debt has passed both chambers with wide margins (unanimously in the Senate)—one or both of these bills will still need to pass its opposite chamber before being sent to the Governor for signature, but their path looks promising. A second bill that repeals the 10-day mandatory minimum sentence given to drivers convicted of a third or subsequent offense of driving with a suspended license passed the Senate unanimously—there was no companion House bill, so we will be working that bill anew as it crosses over to the House. 

Our bills addressing pretrial detention have each have taken a different path.  The bill to roll back statutory presumptions that legally innocent people should be detained pretrial passed the House and has moved on to the Senate. Another bill to ensure meaningful first appearance in court with counsel did not make it out of the House, and a third bill to mandate the collection of a broad range of pretrial data did pass the Senate but with an a contingency clause that the final budget must include appropriate funding. While these bills may not make it through session, or at least not in their original forms, we continue to advocate for these efforts. 
   



Protecting Immigrant Virginians

The minimum wage reform bills that have passed both the House and Senate will be heading to a conference committee. We are working with the Raise the Wage Virginia coalition to ensure that farm and agricultural workers become protected under our state wage law. This important aspect is included in the bill that passed the House but not the one in the Senate.  We are advocating for its inclusion in the final legislation. 

There is a similar situation with the effort to limit the cooperation between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bill that has passed the House is much more comprehensive that the Senate version, so we are hopeful that the final conference committee language will maintain what is in the strong House bill.

Both chambers passed legislation to permit in-state tuition rates for any student who attended at least one year of high school in Virginia and graduates from high school in Virginia or attains a GED in the Commonwealth, regardless of immigration status—there may be some details to iron out in terms of how the final bill is designed, but we will be following the conference process closely to help shape that effort. 

The campaign for Driver’s Licenses for All is closer than ever to success. A bill has made it through both chambers, with the House bill providing true (non-REAL-ID) driver’s licenses to immigrants, while the Senate bill limits this to “Driver’s Privilege Cards.”  We believe it is vital to avoid a separate ID system for immigrants and are working with coalition members to advocate for the House bill’s provisions.

 


     

A Better Education

The House and Senate bills that will ensure that all students in Virginia, whether in school, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event, cannot be criminalized for “disorderly conduct,” have passed both chambers, and the House version is already on its way to the Senate floor after a successful Senate committee appearance just one day after Crossover. We are hopeful that they will continue to move forward with broad support. 

There are three bills addressing school policing. One will open up data to the public on School Resource Officers’ (SRO) interactions with students, one increases and improves training for SROs, and the other increases how frequently agreements between schools and security agencies are reviewed. All three have passed both chambers

Also easily getting through both the House and Senatea bill to assure that school dress codes include anti-discrimination protections based on race and ethnicity, and one that extends educational stability protections to students in foster care up to age 22, helping those who age out of care at age 18 but are still pursuing their high school education. 

The House bill that would have mandated Virginia fund our public K-12 educational system to match the recommendations made by the Board of Education’s Standards of Quality did not advance this session, while the Senate bill passed its own chamber with a contingency clause that the final budget must include appropriate funding. Still, even without the bills, we have a critical opportunity to increase funding for our K-12 schools and accomplish the bills’ goals through the budget itself. The process for creating the state budget is underway and our Fund Our Schools campaign is asking for help in calling the legislators who are negotiating the budgets.

   

Thank you for reading. We will update you at the end of the General Assembly session on what legislation has passed and what it means for our communities. 

The 2020 Virginia legislative session is under way and LAJC has put forth an ambitious set of priorities to advocate for this year. With the legislature looking to take on some long-standing issues that affect our communities, we are optimistic that meaningful policy change is possible and are working with our elected representatives to help make it happen. 

This year our focus is on:

A Better Education

From pushing to fully and equitably fund our state’s K-12 public education system (see our Fund Our Schools campaign) to ending the criminalization of students for “disorderly conduct,” to stopping school pushout through unnecessary suspensions and expulsions, we are working with policy makers to ensure all students in Virginia have a chance to succeed. 

Pretrial Detention and Decriminalizing Poverty

This year we hope to see the permanent end of both driver’s license suspensions due to unpaid court fines and the unconstitutional “habitual drunkard” statute that preyed on the homeless and those struggling with the illness of alcoholism. We are also working to shed light on our pretrial system in Virginia courts where too many innocent people are being held in jail prior to ever seeing a trial resulting in housing instabillty, employment issues, and strained family relationships. 

Protecting Immigrant Virginians

We are working in tandem with other immigrants’ rights groups to advocate for more rights and better protections for our immigrant community members.  This includes fighting to end the mandate that local law enforcement report to Immigration and Customs enforcement (ICE), advocating for in-state tuition for immigrant who arrived too late for DACA eligibility, pushing to get drivers licenses for all residents of the state regardless of immigration status, and ensuring that farmworkers are included in minimum wage increases and have stronger health and safety protections.

We are also actively supporting other legal and advocacy organizations in their fights for better housing, healthcare, and other issues affecting low-income Virginians. 

You can read our full slate of legislative priorities here. 

It is a long list, but we are committed to seeing it through this session and have already had a number of issues move forward in the General Assembly: 

The bill that would provide “Driver’s Licenses for All” passed through the Senate Transportation Committee 

The Legislation that will decriminalize disorderly conduct in schools passed through the House Courts Committee

The bill that ends the mandated reporting to ICE from local law enforcement has made it through both the House Courts Committee and the Senate Judicary Committee

One of a series of bills addressing pretrial detention—this would mandate an attorney be present when a person first appears in a court—was heard in a sub-committee and moved through and referred to the appropriations committee 
  

And that is just a small sample of the news that is coming out of the Pocahontas building at the State Capital on a daily basi


 

K-12 Education Equity, School Discipline, and School Policing

Fund Our Schools: Fully and Equitably Fund Virginia’s K-12 Public Schools
Strong, well-supported public schools are vital to ensuring that every child in every zip code is able to pursue their educational and career ambitions. But Virginia does not invest enough in its K-12 schools to fulfill its constitutional obligation to ensure that every child receives a high-quality education. The state cannot shirk its commitment any longer: we must ensure that every student in every zip code has the resources and opportunities to be successful.

Reduce School Arrest: Decriminalize Childhood

The greatest racial disparities in school discipline can be found in highly subjective code of conduct violations such as “disorderly conduct.” The added issue for many students—and especially Black students—is that disorderly conduct violations are also criminalized by Virginia code, and turn into thousands of arrests, court petitions, unnecessary diversion requirements, or even probation and deeper court involvement—all for behavior that can and should be managed at the school level, with more effective tools that should be serving as alternatives to exclusion and arrest.

As of 2015, the rate of students referred to law enforcement for all violations in Virginia was the highest among all states. Despite the frequency of student-police interactions, families and communities do not know enough and do not have enough of a role in whether and how police are operating within school buildings. When police are used in school buildings, school divisions should require data collection and reporting of School Resource Officer actions against students, including arrests, use of section and restraint, referrals to court, and other actions.

Stop School Pushout: Educate Every Child

School discipline reform & school enrollment protections have long been & continues to be a primary element of our organization’s policy agenda each General Assembly session. We will work with any legislators on reform efforts to eliminate the use of suspension & expulsion; mandate the provision of education during any disciplinary removals from classrooms; protect the rights & education of students with disabilities; consider trauma history or system involvement in supporting student needs; & address school policies that implicitly or explicitly discriminate by race, gender, disability, foster care status, immigration status, sexual orientation & intersectional identities therein.


 

Challenging Court Debt, Pretrial Detention, and the Criminalization of Poverty

Permanently End Driver’s License Suspensions Due to Court Debt

Suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court debt is self-defeating and ineffective as a collection tool and mires people in a cycle of unemployment, jail, and even deeper debt. The suspension process happens automatically after even one delinquent payment and can end up lasting years, especially for low-income residents who must prioritize their essential basic needs. This is an unconstitutional deprivation that props up a form of debtors’ prison in the Commonwealth.

Bring Va’s Pretrial System out of the Shadows

The number of innocent people in Virginia’s jails keeps increasing and we must act now to figure out why. From 2012 through 2018, the average daily population of Virginians detained pretrial increased 36%. We don’t know why this is happening. But we do know that poor people of color are most affected by pretrial detention which, among other things, can lead to job loss, housing instability and lack of access to medication. Virginia’s pretrial system has operated in the shadows for too long, and in a manner that incarcerates far too many individuals before they’ve even had the facts of their case considered. The need to keep track of what happens to people coming through the pretrial process so we can determine how best to stop the rise in pretrial detention and restore the presumption of innocence.

 Ensure a Meaningful First Appearance

Your first appearance in court should mean something. In Virginia, people detained pretrial can sit in jail for days, and in some places, a week or more, before they can challenge their detention. And when they finally appear in court, they face a complicated system alone. Virginia fails to provide a lawyer who can advocate for an accused person at the first appearance. This is a particularly harmful practice that can lead to unjust outcomes including unnecessary pretrial detention and an increased risk of entering a guilty plea regardless of guilt.

Clear “Habitual Drunkard” Statute from the Books

Virginia has used the antiquated, discriminatory “Interdiction” statute to target people experiencing homelessness who drink, purchase, or possess alcohol by labeling them “habitual drunkards.” Ruling on litigation brought by our organization, the 4th Circuit in 2019 found the statute to be unconstitutional, and Virginia must clear it out of our state code.

 


 

 

Immigrant Virginians: Protecting Rights, Health and Safety, and Education 

Better Protections and Pay for Farmworkers

Farmworkers in Virginia today are mostly Black and Latino.  They perform difficult physical labor for long hours under stressful conditions with few protections. Currently, they are not even eligible for the minimum wage under state law. We have joined the Virginia Fight for $15 Coalition and are working within this coalition to assure that farmworkers are included in any state minimum wage increase.  We are also working to ensure that they are allowed mandatory rest breaks in the heat of summer.

De-ICE Virginia

The Code of Virginia has five sections that mandate inquiry and reporting of immigration status from local and state law enforcement to ICE officials. Virginia should instead allow localities to opt out of the burden of immigration enforcement they take on behalf of ICE, so that localities can be responsive to local communities on immigration policy and use their law enforcement resources and capacity in ways that best suit their local community.

In-State Tuition for VA Immigrants

Immigrant students residing in Virginia who arrived after June 2007—and so do not qualify for DACA status—cannot currently access in-state tuition at our higher education institutions, despite otherwise meeting the criteria.  We are working to ensure that all Virginia students who graduate from Virginia high schools can obtain in-state tuition, regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status.

Drive Virginia Forward

Virginians who are not able to produce proof of legal presence in the U.S. are not eligible for driver’s license but are still residents of Virginia who must travel by vehicle to take care of themselves and their families.  We are working to ensure that all Virginians can obtain a non-REAL ID drivers’ license, regardless of their immigration status.  We are also supporting privacy legislation that will prevent federal immigration authorities from conducting fishing expeditions in our state DMV’s database without judicial warrants.

 

DOWNLOAD A PDF VERSION

 

The Fight to Prevent Presumptions Against Bail

When the Governor recently introduced a budget amendment that would reinstate presumptions against bail, we fought back. The Pretrial Justice Coalition (which LAJC is a founding member of) helped to repeal the presumptions in 2021 and knew defending the victory was key to continuing to make our pretrial system more…

Veto Session Update - 2022 Legislative Session

Every legislative session in Virginia culminates in a brief “Reconvene” or “Veto” session where the General Assembly considers any vetoes or amendments from the Governor. On April 27th, legislators gathered to act on approximately 100 bills that Gov. Youngkin proposed amending, as well as 26 bills that he vetoed. Several of…

LAJC/Youth Justice Program's statement on HB 1197

Virginia has received national attention in recent years for shifting its approach to juvenile justice from a punitive, carceral system to a more rehabilitative, restorative, and community-based model. The bipartisan passage of HB 1197 continues this trajectory by establishing a stakeholder workgroup to initiate the transfer of the Department of…

Statement - Gov. Youngkin’s Vetoes of HB573 & SB279

Outstanding bills for medical treatment are one of the leading causes of debt and bankruptcy, and medical debt is one of the most common debts for which Virginians are sued. Governor Youngkin’s vetoes of Del. Clark’s HB573 and Sen. Deeds’ SB297 have derailed critical, popular, and thoughtfully crafted bipartisan consumer…

Welcome Our New Staff!

In the past few months we have been joined by a number of fantastic new staff members! Meet the staff who have started with us since October 2021: Hannah Flamm (she/her) – Attorney, Immigrant Advocacy Program Hannah Flamm joined the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program as an immigration…

Our Letter Urging Closure of ICA-Farmville

Today, 109 organizations, coalitions, and law firms from Virginia and around the country, including LAJC, joined together to demand that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas close the privatized ICE detention center in Farmville, Virginia and release every detained immigrant. You can read the letter here. For over a decade, Farmville has been a site of well-documented abuse, mistreatment, and medical…

Welcome our new Dep. Director of Operations

We are incredibly excited to announce Danielle Taylor as our new Deputy Director of Operations! This brand new role will design, build, and oversee systems and infrastructure to promote a healthy working environment and to support our advocates in achieving LAJC’s mission. Danielle Taylor is a global development strategist and human rights activist…

Complaint Filed Over RRHA Redevelopment Issues

Today the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) filed a Housing Discrimination and Rental Assistance Demonstration Program complaint against The Michaels Organization, the current owners of the Fulton and Randolph/Idlewood affordable housing complexes, on behalf of two families. The complaint details how, when residents notified the property managers about serious health…

LAJC Plans Expansion Thanks to Historic Gift

Legal Aid Justice Center Plans Expansion of Services and Other Community-led Efforts Thanks to an Historic Unrestricted Gift.     Charlottesville/Richmond/Falls Church VA – The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) today announced that a long-time donor to the organization, Philanthropist Sonjia Smith, has given LAJC a one-time gift of $10,000,000. This historic show of support for LAJC’s efforts towards…

Welcome to our new staff!

As we grow our work, we have also been growing our team! Welcome to our new staff members who have started work with us in the past three months – you can read more about them here:  Kendra Hudson (she/her) – Attorney – Petersburg Kendra joined Legal Aid Justice Center in…

Announcing Anna Kurien, CRRJ's new Legal Director

Anna worked for over a decade as a Public Defender at the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, Office of the Public Defender. There, she represented low-income people charged with felonies in jury trials and appeals. She used the participatory defense model to partner with her clients and their communities to shift the…

Statement - Charlottesville Eviction Defense Funds

The Legal Aid Justice Center greatly appreciates Charlottesville City Council’s commitment to housing justice in Charlottesville, and we applaud their recent vote to approve funding for an eviction prevention program. We also want to express our gratitude to the very courageous and incredibly effective advocacy by our partners and allies…

Welcome to LAJC's New Staff!

As we grow our work, we have also been growing our team! Welcome to our new staff members who have started work with us so far in 2021 – you can read more about them here:  Chris Florez (he/him) – Technology Manager – Charlottesville Chris joined Legal Aid Justice Center…

Public Comments on RRHA Redevelopment Plan

On Friday, July 2nd, the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and the Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) submitted joint public comment on the Richmond Redevelopment Housing Authority (RRHA) Annual Agency Plan opposing significant aspects of the plan. Our key concern is that the plan will decrease the amount of deeply…

Unemployment Insurance - July 1st Report to Court

Download PDF version here IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA Richmond Division ASHLEY COX, et al.,             Plaintiffs, v. ELLEN MARIE HESS, in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Virginia Employment Commission,             Defendant. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )…

LAJC Asks Northam to Extend Tenant Protections

Today we at Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and The Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) sent a letter to Governor Ralph Northam urging him to extend State of Emergency protections for tenants via executive order. Currently all of Virginia’s State of Emergency tenant protections are set to expire on June…

Judge Orders VEC to Fix Issues at the Agency

Judge Orders Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) to End Unemployment Insurance Backlog and Fix Issues at the Agency    Legal Aid groups and their Pro Bono Partners will monitor the VEC’s progress to ensure Virginians who have been struggling, often for months, get access to the relief they are owed   …

VEC Attempts to Delay Unemployment Lawsuit

  The Virginia Employment Commission Responds to Lawsuit About Delays in Unemployment Payments with…a Request to Delay.  Despite having been fully informed about the issues detailed in the lawsuit more than six months ago, the VEC moves to put the case on hold for an extra month. Richmond VA –…

LAJC Asks Richmond Schools to End Police MOU

In solidarity with Richmond youth and as part of our multi-year effort to end school pushout and the school-to-prison pipeline, today the Legal Aid Justice Center sent a letter to the City of Richmond School Board and the Richmond Public Schools administration asking that Richmond divest from its School Resource…

Supporting Police-Free Schools in Alexandria

Today LAJC sent a letter to the Alexandria (Va) City Council in support of student demands for a police-free Alexandria City Public School system. Youth advocates at our longtime partner organization, Tenants and Workers United, have petitioned the City Council for a budget amendment that would divest nearly $800,000 from Alexandria’s…

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Legal Aid Justice Center’s 2019 Legislative Agenda:

Richmond, Virginia, (January 14, 2019) –The 2019 Virginia legislative session is underway! Session began Wednesday, January 9th, as the legislature worked to organize itself for a short 45-day legislative session. The General Assembly alternates between 60-day sessions, during which it completes a full biennial budget, and 45-day “short” sessions, during which they…still do quite a bit of work on the biennial budget.
 
As with last year and for a few years to come, the legislature will complete much of its committee work and have legislative offices in the Pocahontas Building, located at 900 E. Main St in Richmond.
   
Legislators have already filed about 1,950 bills and resolutions for this 45-day session, and more are coming. LAJC staff will be working to educate policymakers and support our partners on a variety of issues. You can access our full LAJC legislative agenda here, and below you will find a brief summary of our primary priorities for this session:
 
JustChildren: Educate Every Child & Juvenile Justice
Legislation

  • Right-Size school counselor caseloads to the nationally-recommended best practice of one counselor for every 250 students.
  • Bring transparency and accountability to disciplinary alternative education through data collection and reporting, disaggregated by race and disability.
  • Decriminalize disorderly conduct for students in school setting.Ensure all School Resource Officers have appropriate training to work with students from all backgrounds.
  • Require schools and law enforcement agencies to enter into memorandums of understanding governing the use of School Resource Officers, and assure staff are trained on these plans.
  • Support efforts to raise the minimum age of eligibility that youth may be tried in adult court.

Budget Amendments:
LAJC will be supporting several budget items in Governor Northam’s introduced budget, as well as legislative budget amendments to make sure our schools are adequately funded and focused on ensuring students have access to support staff, with a priority on school counselors. In the introduced budget, Governor Northam provided funding to “right-size” school counselor caseloads and increase targeted “At-Risk Add-On” funding for economically disadvantaged students. We’ll also be supporting legislative budget amendments that seek to fulfill the Virginia Board of Education’s recommendations on fully funding Virginia schools’ Standards of Quality.

Civil Rights & Racial Justice
Legislation

  • End the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid or delinquent court debt.
  • Codify both the state’s commitment to pretrial liberty for all people and its commitment to transparent public access to the full scope of pretrial outcomes across the Commonwealth.
  • Repeal the antiquated “Interdiction” statute to prevent the unconstitutional criminalization of people who are homeless by legally labeling them as “habitual drunkards” if they buy, possess, or consume alcohol.

Immigrant Advocacy
LAJC will be working in partnership with VACOLAO, immigrant students with DACA status, and the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights to ensure that immigrant communities have equal treatment, equal opportunities, and equal representation in the Commonwealth. Priorities for this session include:

  • Driver’s permit access for all immigrant Virginians; 
  • In-state tuition access for immigrant Virginia students regardless of immigration status; and
  • Preventing the expansion of federal immigration authorities over local and state agency information.

Economic Justice
LAJC will be working in partnership with the Virginia Poverty Law Center to support efforts to reduce evictions in the Commonwealth, expand opportunities for localities to increase the availability of affordable housing, and prevent financial exploitation of low-income Virginians. At the state level, we are also members of the Campaign to Reduce Evictions.

Legislation
: See VPLC’s full legislative agenda here.

Support our legislative advocacy efforts!
You can access our Legal Aid Justice Center legislative agenda here. To get involved with our legislative advocacy, please contact us at info@justice4all.org and let us know if you’re closer to Richmond, Charlottesville, or Northern Virginia.

You can also sign up for email alerts on our website, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We will be sharing advocacy materials, updates, blog posts, and calls to action as the session progresses!

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