Virginia recently passed a new statute allowing for post-conviction sentence reductions for prisoners in exchange for their cooperation in specific criminal cases. Criminal defense attorney Rebecca Wade offers insights into how this amendment benefits prosecutors and what it means for prisoners who possess information in ongoing cases.

“Up until this year, Virginia had no statutes that allowed for any sentence reduction due to cooperation with the prosecution,” says Wade. “If you wanted to cooperate in a case, you wanted to try to do so early on. And you were really relying on prosecutorial discretion — hoping that since you were cooperating, the prosecution may go easier on you.” Whether a person’s cooperation counted for anything largely depended on what county they were in and the culture and policies of the prosecutor’s office. However, Virginia’s new statute makes early cooperation less important because prison terms can now be reduced after sentencing.

Wade explains that because the law allows for continuing cooperation, it is largely geared towards ‘jailhouses snitches’. “Say you’re in jail and you hear somebody confess to something, or you gain information after sentencing. That allows you to go back and have your sentence reduced,” says Wade. “Before in Virginia, you couldn’t do that, so if you were in prison and your ‘bunkie’ confessed to a murder, there was no way to get your sentence reduced by cooperating. Now there is.”  

This new statute largely benefits the prosecution because a testimony from someone who’s already been sentenced with a significant amount of time holds some weight. “It sends a message to the jury that the charges the defendant is facing are very serious, which can be very helpful for the prosecutor.”

One thing that’s particularly interesting about this statute, is that it limits the crimes for which a sentence can be reduced after sentencing. “The only thing that this statute allows for are crimes of violence and drug crimes,” says Wade.