You may have heard in the news about various groups pushing for criminal justice reform. That phrase alone is one of the most vague you will find, but it goes to show that the push is on to reform all parts of criminal justice.
Whether it’s personal-injury tort law, prison reform, sentencing reform, or any other aspect of the criminal justice system, reform has been the buzzword. Some of it happens judicially as state and federal courts are starting to scrutinize and strike down antiquated or problematic statues, while other reforms are taking place legislatively, with changes to sentencing minimums, or re-classifying of some crimes under misdemeanor or felony categories.
Virginia is one of several states that still have very arcane and quaint societal and morality laws still on the books, and once in a while they rise up in modern-day court cases. One such law is what is known as a “fornication law,” of which many states have had in the past but only a handful still list in their books. Virginia’s fornication law made it a crime for any unmarried adult to have sex with another adult.
Yes, pre-marital or extra-marital sex has been a crime in Virginia!
The state Supreme Court invalidated the law upon appeal of a case in which a woman sued her ex-boyfriend for damages after a claim that the boyfriend knowingly gave her a venereal disease while they had unprotected sex. The defendant in the case argued that Virginia’s fornication law made their sex illegal, and thus the girlfriend was not entitles to damages hen in the commission of an “illegal” activity (similar to robbing a bank).
The initial trial judge threw out the case because of the fornication law – agreeing with the defendant’s argument – but on appeal, the state’s Supreme Court reversed the decision, invalidating the fornication law on constitutional grounds and allowed the plaintiff’s case to go forward.
It is a case like this that can refute arguments that laws are on the books are set in stone and cannot move with the times and cultural norm changes that happen over the years. Reform can be something very common-sense, such as invalidating a law that would involve the government getting into the private space of a person (if not is or her body), and of course the cultural norm that the law would be problematic because so many people have pre-marital or extra-marital sex compared to 100 years ago.
Personal-injury tort law reform is one of the areas where the judicial system could have some better efficiency, in having some of these kids of archaic laws removed from the books so less court time and caseload can be spent on lawsuits such as this. In this case, if the law had been vacated prior to the lawsuit, the victim would have had the case heard and ruled upon already and the appeals process would not have been needed.
People do have rights to due process and a speedy trial, but sometimes frivolous laws and frivolous lawsuits can get in the way of speedy trials because … well, there are only 24 hours in a day.