- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

RICHMOND — Gov. Mark Warner yesterday signed legislation that allows prosecutors to appeal unfavorable pretrial rulings in criminal cases, a response to a dismissed murder charge against one of two snipers who terrorized the Washington region in 2002.

John Allen Muhammad already had been convicted and sentenced to die for another of the 10 fatal shootings in the Washington area in October 2002. Fairfax County prosecutors were seeking a second conviction and death sentence against Muhammad for the Oct. 14, 2002, killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin.

In October, a judge dismissed the charges on grounds that the state did not bring Muhammad to trial within five months of his arrest, as state law requires.

“The commonwealth had no opportunity to appeal that ruling,” Mr. Warner said.

Bills by Delegate Bill Janis, Henrico Republican, and Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, allow the state to appeal a circuit court’s dismissal of a case on the basis of a tardy trial without violating a defendant’s constitutional right not to be tried twice for the same crime.

Mr. Warner also signed bills that require a tighter rein on the dispensing of powerful prescription painkillers and substantially boost the penalty for illegally making or distributing them.

Both bills arose from widespread abuse of OxyContin, particularly in southwestern Virginia.

One new law requires apothecaries who fill prescriptions for such drugs to monitor their inventories and where they are dispensed, and to log them into a state database. Doctors, police and pharmacists may access the information to ensure that the drugs aren’t being abused or misdirected.

The database has been in use in southwestern Virginia.

A related bill makes it a felony to illegally produce or dispense such powerful drugs, now only a misdemeanor.

Mr. Warner signed medical tort-reform legislation meant to address soaring costs of malpractice insurance that doctors say have driven up health care costs and driven many of them out of practicing medicine.

The bills make it tougher for plaintiffs to sue by requiring expert medical witnesses to be certified before lawsuits can be filed. It obliges the Virginia Board of Medicine to scrutinize doctors who have paid three or more malpractice claims within 10 years, and it prevents a plaintiff from using an expression of sympathy from a health care professional as evidence in a lawsuit.

Mr. Warner also signed a bill that continues state reviews of the efficiency of local school districts, part of Mr. Warner’s Education for a Lifetime initiative.

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