Governor Northam pushes to end the death penalty in VA


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With a little less than a year left in office, Governor Ralph Northam is becoming devoutly aggressive towards passing new, progressive policy for Virginians. Among the changes, includes the eradication of capital punishment, a milestone for a historically pro-death penalty state. Virginia has executed more than any other state or commonwealth in the nation except for Texas, disproportionately killing Black Virginians. Governor Northam has promised to introduce a reformative bill in the midst of calls for social and racial justice. 


This proposed amendment to the Virginian criminal justice system is not surprising considering the track that the state has been on for the past 10 years. Since 2011, there have been no new death sentences, and there are only two inmates currently awaiting execution. As of Tuesday, January 26th, a senate committee has approved the bill, a key and historic step towards the termination of Virginia’s racist legacy.


As for the fiscal aspect of the potential law, an additional $77,000 would be needed for upkeep for the two inmates presently on death row. However, about $4 million annually would be saved by consequently eliminating the Capitol Defender Service, a team of 29 lawyers representing those sentenced to death.


Virginian legislators from the DC Metro Area overwhelmingly support this amendment, whereas the Southern regions with generally more conservative legislators, oppose it. Republican state senator, Thomas Norment of Williamsburg, told the media, “I’m trying to be objective about this otherwise unworthy bill — I think it’s more of a policy discussion than a fiscal one.” Virginia Democrats contrast this view, emphasizing the ideals of saving money and doing what they frame as more ethical. Democrats are backed by years of work from activists, as well as control of both the House of Delegates and Senate.


22 relatives of murder victims have asked the General Assembly to pass the bill. They say that the death of murderers does not ensure closure for families. Their letter states, “Our direct experience with the criminal justice system and our struggle with grief have led us all to the same conclusion: Virginia’s death penalty fails victim’s families.” They advocate for the money saved to be put to use covering costs of counseling, funerals and other services that grieving families endure.


Those in the commonwealth’s legal field came out in great numbers in support of the death penalty abolition, including the Attorneys General, former criminal prosecutors and eleven Commonwealth Attorneys. A letter titled “Virginia Progressive Prosecutors For Justice” advises that capital punishment does little, if anything, to deter criminal offenses. 


If the bill is passed, Virginia would be the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty, setting an example for more to follow.


EDITOR’S UPDATE: Virginia’s House of Delegates and Senate have both passed measures officially banning the death penalty in the commonwealth. Governor Northam’s has pledged to sign the bill. Virginia is the 23rd state to end the death penalty. Many see this as a signal of Virginia’s rapid move to the left in recent years. Mr. Northam stated, “It’s important that we shut down the machinery of death here in Virginia.”