Virginia Poised To Become 23rd State To End Death Penalty

The state that has executed the most prisoners may soon end the practice entirely.


Virginia will be the latest state to end executions if a bill lawmakers passed last week is signed into law.

Virginia has executed 114 prisoners since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center; across its lengthy history, it has executed more prisoners than any other state. (The first execution in what would become the United States was in the Jamestown colony in Virginia in 1608.) Like many other states, it has used the punishment less often in recent years; it hasn't executed anybody since 2017. Only two people are currently on death row in Virginia.

The bill just passed eliminates the death penalty as a form of punishment. The two people currently on death row will have their sentences converted to life imprisonment. There's been a bit of legislative friction over whether those two people should ever be eligible for parole: The House version of the bill would not allow it, while the Senate bill opens the possibility. So that will have to be hammered out in conferences.

Whichever version of the bill ends up on Gov. Ralph Northram's desk, he's likely to sign it. The Democratic governor has publicly called for the end of the death penalty, telling The New York Times that he wants to "shut down the machinery of death here in Virginia."

All the Democrats in both houses voted to end the use of executions. Two Republicans in the House joined the Democrats, but none in the Senate supported it. The Washington Post reports that some Republican senators have said they'd be more open to the bill if they were certain that people convicted of what would have been capital crimes would be guaranteed life sentences and couldn't ever be paroled. So depending on how the compromise is worded, it could pick up more Republican support.

The recent plunge in states' use of the death penalty contrasts with the return of federal executions in the final months of Donald Trump's presidency. The Department of Justice under Trump executed 13 people, three in the final week of Trump's term. The federal government executed more people in 2020 than all states combined.

President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party's platform both oppose the use of the death penalty. There is pressure now on Biden to commute the sentences of the remaining 59 people on federal death row to prevent their executions. On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that the president is considering whether to order the Department of Justice to stop scheduling further executions.

That's fine as a short-term stopgap, but if Biden truly opposes the death penalty, he needs to commute those sentences. Otherwise he'll be repeating a mistake made by President Barack Obama: Obama told the Justice Department not to schedule any executions, but he left those prisoners on death row for the next administration to execute.

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  1. I haven't seen any recent studies; which is less expensive, life in prison, or the lawyers fees for all the death sentence appeals?

    1. The lawyers fees are to run out the clock until something like this happens. Occasionally it works. Though anti-death penalty activists mentioning the difference in costs between life imprisonment and an execution, always struck me as being really full of chutzpah.

      Elections have consequences.

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        1. I support the death penalty for spammers.


      2. The death penalty also saves a lot of money by deterring murders from happening in the first place, which reduces the criminal justice system costs associated with investigating and trying homicide cases. As the Associated Press noted in 2007, "Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five, and 14)."

        Much of the expense of the death penalty is illusory. Progressive lawyers focus on challenging executions because they are the most serious penalty available in our legal system -- driving up the death penalty's costs. But once the death penalty is abolished, those progressive lawyers will more on to attacking life without parole, so the costs will not go away if the death penalty is abolished, it will just shift. In Europe, lawyers moved on to attacking life without parole after the death penalty was abolished, and the European human-rights court ended up abolishing life without parole after a lengthy and expensive campaign against life without parole. The lawyers will just keep attacking whatever is the most serious penalty available in the legal system, whatever it is.

        The death penalty is useful in preventing additional killings by prisoners serving life sentences. If an inmate is already in prison for life, giving him yet another life sentence for killing his cellmate achieves nothing. Inmates occasionally kill their cellmate -- or a guard -- when they know they won't be executed for doing so.

      3. Chutzpah it is indeed.

        “A Sanhedrin (high court) that puts a man to death once in seven years is called a murderous one. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah said, 'Or even once in 70 years.' Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiba said, 'If we had been in the Sanhedrin, no death sentence would ever have been passed'

        Mishnah Sanhedrin

        And the law always follows R. Akiva.

    2. The direct costs of executing five of the recent federal prisoners was roughly $1 million each. That's just the costs of assembling, transporting, housing the execution teams. That itself is supposedly equivalent to 25 additional years of incarceration.

      1. Which is a result of al, the extraneous bullshit death penalty opponents have successfully pushed for. Then they argue that it costs too much.

        Just disingenuous garbage from a bunch of zealots.

        1. Do you really want to let an evil leftist fuck like Ralph (KKK) Northram continue to have the power to execute people?

          1. He will be long gone before he can get around to it. Thanks to the over complicated system required to execute anyone.

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    4. We should never execute criminals; we should only execute people who voted for Trump or who doubt that Biden won honestly. Let's be honest, these socialists will be changing their tune on the death penalty soon enough.

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  2. Ralph 'Coon' (his description, not mine) Northam: 'Shut down the machinery of death'

    I thought he meant abortion clinics. Alas, this was not the case.

    1. No, it has helped ensure that a woman can choose to murder her newborn baby carried to full term and delivered.

    2. He was referring to free hysterectomies for Black women on public assistance.

  3. Rather hilarious to read a libertarian article requesting help from the federal government to solve a local or state problem.

    1. No contradiction at all. The federal government is now controlled by Joe Biden, who was the overwhelming choice of the libertarians who write for


      1. There are no libertarians who write for Unreason. They are posers.

      2. Reason no longer has libertarian writers but only far left democrat writers.

  4. Murderers rejoice!

  5. >>President Joe Biden ... oppose the use of the death penalty.

    baloney. and Virginia way to go out on top.

  6. Northern Virginia has ruined our once great state. Like other states we just can no longer win against a high population area even though our state is very red locally. The DC suburbs have destroyed us. I was always proud of our great death penalty and our abolition of parole for those in our state prison spearheaded by the great Governor George Allen. Shame.

    1. I moved to VA in 2003, around the time it started to turn purple. You can thank the Republicans for creating a good business climate that attracted job seekers from blue states, also you can thank George W Bush for boosting the numbers of federal jobs in the D.C. area, especially in defense and IT after 9/11. The people who work these jobs aren’t going to live in D.C., and there isn’t enough room for them in Maryland, so here they are.

      The death penalty is not the thing I am most worried about though, just wait until we start paying NY level taxes.

    2. You mean the George “Macaca” Allen who had a noose outside his office? Yeah, great guy. He was the beginning of the end for the GOP in Virginia.

  7. The death penalty saves innocent lives. According to a 2003 study by researches at Emory University, each execution deters an average of 18 murders. So this is unfortunate.

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  9. Never give the state the power of execution.

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  11. Good. The death penalty is wasteful, does not allow for correcting mistakes, and is a waste of time in any case.

    Furthermore, it's great that they are actually changing the law instead of just pretending the law says what they want and making up nonsense to support it.

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