Friday, December 9, 2011

Virginia: A Model for Administering the Death Penalty

Virginia should be the model for administering the death penalty nationwide.  In Virginia the death penalty is more than a symbolic penalty.  Death sentences are reviewed and carried out. The death penalty is a deterrent in Virginia.

Virginia inmates spend half the time, 7.1 years, from sentencing to execution than the average wait nationally, and the relatively large number of executions and fewer death sentences here has left just 11 killers on death row, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Virginia's tally through 2010 — 108 executions out of 149 death sentences — is in large part a result of fewer reversals, historically at least, by the Virginia Supreme Court and the 4th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals.

By comparison, California, which has conducted just 13 executions since 1977, has a death-row population of more than 700, among them Alfredo Prieto, condemned in 1992 for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in Ontario, Calif.

From 1977 through 2010, fewer people were sentenced to death in Virginia than in other states with similar populations: Ohio, 230; North Carolina, 443; and Georgia 321. Virginia's per-capita execution rate, however, ranks fourth nationally. Alabama and South Carolina, with populations roughly half the size of Virginia, sentenced to death 439 and 194 people, respectively, during the same period.

Robert Blecker, a professor at the New York School of Law, supports execution for the worst offenders and said that on its face, Virginia's record appears to be exemplary.

"It is a ratio to which all states with a death penalty should aspire," Blecker told the Times-Disptach. Blecker is the author of the recently published "Let the Great Axe Fall," based in part on 12 years interviewing hundreds of killers at the District of Columbia's former Lorton Reformatory in Fairfax County.

"I heard stories from guys who murdered in D.C. but would not in Virginia because of 'what that state has waiting for me.' I can tell you that the guys feared Virginia's death penalty — whether from the high ratio, or for other reasons," he said.

Blecker said fewer death-case reversals by appeals courts here does not necessarily mean they are not doing a good job reviewing cases — it could mean that abolitionist judges in other parts of the country are finding too many errors.

"No trial is perfect," Blecker said. The question is whether errors were serious enough to have changed the outcome. He said judges on some appeals courts are using minor errors as pretexts for reversals.

"It could be that the 4th Circuit is really calling it accurately," he told the Times-Dispatch.

But, said Blecker, Virginia's execution ratio could obscure problems.

"We should condemn very, very few to death, and execute almost all of them," he said. He said it appeared that Virginia, with 15 death-eligible crimes, might want to cull the list.

"Ideally, the legislature should construct a death-penalty statute that truly isolates only the worst of the worst of the worst," he said.

To read more:

No comments:

Post a Comment