It came as no surprise to me that one of the first moves that Virginia Democrats made was to file bills seeking to abolish the death penalty in 2020. I’ve always supported the death penalty to some degree. I believe that some crimes are so heinous that the only fitting punishment is death. I am in no way saying that the death penalty is perfect. The death penalty does need reform in Virginia.
On average, a Virginia death row inmate will spend seven years in prison between sentencing and execution. Although Virginia has been much more careful than other states at ensuring that no innocent people are executed, there is another reform that should be implemented: the creation of innocence commissions. In 2006, North Carolina became the first state to establish such commissions. They have a panel of eight members, which include a superior court judge, a prosecuting attorney, a defense attorney, a victim advocate, a member of the public, a sheriff, and two discretionary members. The commission reviews factual innocence claims, and since its inception, the panel has reviewed more than 2,800 claims. Such a system would be extremely important for death penalty cases in Virginia, and the legislature should seek to establish an innocence commission here. DNA evidence should be a requirement for capital cases, and the forensic evidence should be preserved throughout the appellate process. If the DNA evidence is somehow misplaced or destroyed at any stage, the innocence commission should block the execution.
How can politicians honestly continue to ask for our trust?