Virginia lawmakers vote to ban the death penalty

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Virginia lawmakers approved legislation Monday to ban the death penalty and are now sending the legislation to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va).

The Senate voted 22-16 on Monday, with Republican state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel joining Democrats, to approve the measure. The House approved the state Senate’s own version of the bill, 57-43, shortly after senators voted.

Northam’s signature will make Virginia the 23rd state to ban executions and the first in the American South.

“It is vital that our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably,” Gov. Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw said in a joint statement. “We all know the death penalty doesn’t do that. It is inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane.”

“Over Virginia’s long history, this Commonwealth has executed more people than any other state. And, like many other states, Virginia has come too close to executing an innocent person. It’s time we stop this machinery of death,” the statement continued.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court let states resume the death penalty in 1976, Virginia has conducted the second most executions, following Texas. 2017 was the last execution in Virginia.

“Thanks to the vote of lawmakers in both chambers, Virginia will join 22 other states that have ended use of the death penalty. This is an important step forward in ensuring that our criminal justice system is fair and equitable to all,” the statement concludes.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 25 states currently have the death penalty, 22 states do not and three have governor-imposed moratoriums.

The legislation would commute the death sentences of the two offenders currently on death row in Virginia to life in prison without parole.

Follow Annaliese Levy on Twitter @AnnalieseLevy

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