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Jail or prison sentence—What’s the difference?

The trial for Daniel-Harmon Wright, found guilty on three counts, including voluntary manslaughter, has captivated the community's attention and continues to raise more questions than it answered.

Taking nearly a year to reach the inside of a courtroom, the final outcome has some satisfied and others mystified as to the jury's verdict.
Harmon-Wright, maintaining his posture of self defense in the Feb. 2012 fatal shooting of Patricia A. Cook, could have been found guilty of first or second degree murder. He was not.

The jury showed leniency in deeming the shooting voluntary manslaughter.

After the exhaustive eight-day trial, the jurors were excused, the lawyers parted ways and what public and media attended left to continue the conversations that will no doubt follow this case to final sentencing in April and beyond.

Harmon-Wright was led away by Culpeper County deputies, across the courtyard to the jail entrance door but he was not there for long.
Fauquier County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Fisher served as special prosecutor in the Harmon-Wright trial. In his closing remarks to the jury he emphasized that the job of the attorney's was done and it was now up to the jury to do its job in assessing the evidence presented to formulate a verdict.

In much the same way, once the commonwealth's attorney has finished his prosecution and the jury fixed their sentence, the defendant moves into the hands of the local sheriff.

“Bottom line is that we [commonwealth's attorneys] lose jurisdiction over the defendant once they are committed to custody and various state statutes control how the sentence(s) are enforced/executed,” said Fisher.

Lt. James Hartman, who works in the criminal investigations division/media affairs of the Fauquier County Sheriff's Office, confirmed on Tuesday that Daniel Harmon-Wright is currently being held in the Fauquier County Adult Detention Center. According to Hartman, he is being housed in a regular cell with no special considerations. He is not on work release or home incarceration. He is being held there until sentencing.

Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins requested this move for two reasons.

“It's really very simple,” said Jenkins on Tuesday evening, “it's for his safety.
“We have an inmate population of 95 to 100 with 20-plus farmed out to other jails beyond our jurisdiction. Here he would be in a cell with two or three others. I wouldn't be able to provide him with an individual cell. Our jail is populated by people who, in many cases, he has incarcerated. It would have been dangerous.”

The second part of this is that I didn't want anyone to feel that he was getting special treatment from us...as a former officer.
“We could have moved him to Orange County but because of an arrangement we have with them many of those inmates are from Culpeper...this way...he is in a jurisdiction with no ties.”

Time behind bars
The jury's verdict during the sentencing phase of the trial Friday has been referred to in numerous media as their 'recommendation' for the judge.
Fisher clarified the legal terminology.

“'Recommendation' is a misnomer.,” “A jury 'fixes' a sentence in a criminal trial in which they have decided the case. By statute a judge may reduce/modify such a sentence but not increase it. There is no parole in Virginia for prison sentences, so that a person by law must serve a minimum of 85 percent of a 'prison' sentence.”

Fisher went on to say that “jail sentences'”are different and sheriffs in conjunction with the state Department of Corrections have some discretion in how they are handled.

Jail or prison time – sounds the same but is it?
Hartman and Sheriff Jenkins both stated that a sentence of 12 months or less is usually served in a local jail. A sentence longer than 12 months, for example one year plus one month, is considered years and is then served in a state Department of Corrections facility.
“Jail time is counted in months [usually incarcerated locally],” said Jenkins, “prison time is counted in years [usually incarcerated at a state facility or federal facility for a federal crime.”

In Harmon-Wright's case, the jury's sentencing verdict was 12-months for each of the three counts. This totals 36 calendar months which he could serve locally rather than being sent to a state facility.

Concurrent or consecutive?
If Judge Susan Whitlock upholds the jury's verdict at the April sentencing of 12 months each for the three counts (murder, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle, and malicious shooting into a vehicle resulting in death) Harmon-Wright would most likely serve those sentences back to back or consecutively.

"Concurrently" means, that in the case of multiple sentences, that serving one sentence could satisfy another with good behavior and jail credits being applied.

Jenkins has been in law enforcement for over two decades.

“I remember years ago,” said Jenkins, “that when a jury handed down a verdict...that with good behavior and jail credit...an inmate could serve roughly 50 percent of the original sentence.”

That changed in 1996 with then-Gov. George Allen signing into legislation truth-in-sentencing reform.

“Now, when a jury hands down a sentence at least 85 percent of the sentence must be served,” said Jenkins.
“So, if you are a model inmate, a 10-year sentence could look more like 8.5 years.”

Contact the writer at asherman@timespapers.com
Culpeper Times Staff Writer Mark Grandstaff contributed to this article.
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