Virginia Lawmakers Vote to Abolish the Death Penalty

Sarah Khan, Staff Writer

Both the Virginia House and Senate voted to approve legislation that would abolish the state’s death penalty. This is a dramatic change from the state, which, throughout its history, has executed the most people out of any state.

The legislation will now proceed to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who says that he plans on signing the bill. If signed, Virginia will now make the 23rd state to stop all capital punishment.

All Democrats joined by two Republicans voted in favor of abolishing the punishment. Much of the Republican party remains hard in their stance that the death penalty should remain a legal punishment at the judicial system’s disposal.

The bill was co-sponsored by Republican Senator Bill Stanley. He, however, abstained from voting on the bill. His support was conditional and relied on the promise that those whose death sentences were to be commuted would not be eligible for parole during their lifetimes, but would instead spend the rest of their lives in prison. Democrats weren’t able to agree to make that change.

Many supporters of abolishing the death penalty point out the high cost of the punishment, the chance of wrongfully executing a person, and the racial bias associated with it. Over 50% of people on death row in Virginia are African American, while they only make up 20% of the actual population. By abolishing capital punishment, there is more hope that people in Virginia’s court systems will be given more fair, humane, and unbiased punishments for their crimes.

Michael Stone, the executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, remarked on the legislation and called it a landmark decision. He said that “we hope that Virginia will set an example for other states from the old Confederacy to take this bold step toward the humane reform of our legal justice system.”