Virginia could become the first southern state to abolish capital punishment.
On January 13, 2021, Virginia state legislators introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty. If the bill succeeds, it will convert the existing sentences of offenders on death row to life without parole. Governor Ralph Northam has been transparent about his support of the bill and released an official statement a few days before the bill was introduced.
“I understand about timing and I suspect this is the year to end the death penalty in Virginia,” said Governor Northam. “I’ve felt strongly about this for a long time. We’ve been doing so much good work on equity, especially criminal justice reform, and we have the majority in the House and the Senate."
The Supreme Court of Virginia resumed capital punishment in 1976, and since then, the state has executed 113 people which is second to the state of Texas with 570 executions. As of 2021, no one has been executed since 2017. Currently, there are two men on death row who could have their sentences changed to life in prison if the bill passes.
Governor Northam delivered his State of the Commonwealth on Wednesday evening and among the many efforts he mentioned during the hour-long address, he further reiterated his support to end the death penalty in Virginia. He cited several examples of racial injustices, the need for criminal justice reform, and a few modern-day examples of wrongful convictions on death row.
Since Governor Northam first revealed his support of ending capital punishment in Virginia, he has received growing support from several advocacy groups and lawyers including three previous attorney generals and 11 prosecutors.
What's your take on the death penalty? Does this spur on additional questions for you? If so, share them in the comments.