The Virginia Senate and the Virginia House of Delegates passed bills this week that would abolish the death penalty in Virginia, setting Virginia up to be the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty if each chamber approves the other chambers’ bill. If approved, the two men on death row in Virginia will be sentenced to life without parole.
On Wednesday, Virginia’s Democratic-led Senate passed a bill, SB 1165, to ban capital punishment with a 21-17 vote. The Senate’s bill was then moved to a House committee. On Friday, Virginia’s Democratic-led House of Delegates passed a bill to ban capital punishment with a 57-41 vote, with three votes from republicans. Both bills will need to be passed by both chambers. Virginia House Democrats are “confident that both bills will be passed by both chambers, as they are identical.”
Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam will then need to sign the bill into law. Governor Northam expressed intent to sign the Senate’s bill on Wednesday, explaining that capital punishment is “inhumane. It is ineffective. And we know that in some cases, people on death row have been found innocent.”
In addition to the risk of executing the innocent, the Senate bill highlights the cost of death penalty cases and racial bias. Senators opposing the bill argued that the focus of the death penalty is not revenge, but rather justice for victims. Senators also objected to the bill because the bill did not include a mandatory minimum sentence without the possibility of parole for defendants convicted of aggravated murder.
The US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, and 22 states have since repealed it. Virginia would be the 23rd state and the first southern state to abolish capital punishment. Virginia has executed more than 1,300 people, its first recorded execution dating back to 1608, giving Virginia the highest number of executions among the states. Since 1976, only Texas has had more executions than Virginia.