Defense attorneys call it "the jury penalty." It's a centuries-old sentencing system in Virginia that calls for juries to decide punishment for criminal defendants, and often leads to stiffer sentences than what judges give or prosecutors offer in plea deals.
This sentencing structure has been in place for 224 years, but under a bill recently approved by the state legislature, Virginia is expected to turn sentencing over to judges, joining the vast majority of states around the country.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, a strong supporter of criminal justice reform, is expected to sign the bill into law.
The proposal sparked fierce debate during a special legislative session focused on criminal justice and police reform.
Supporters of the change said giving judges the sentencing responsibility will result in fairer sentences, but prosecutors predicted it will result in more jury trials and therefore require additional judges, court clerks and public defenders.