death penaltyD.J. RippertVirginia’s non-debate.

 Politics in Virginia includes a lot of debates.  Trasnportation funding.  Medicaid expansion.  Taxes.  However, one critical aspect of Virginia law has fallen from view – the death penalty.  This lack of debate over the death penalty is not due to a lack of executions.  Since 1976 Virginia has posted the third most executions of any state – far behind Texas but only one execution behind Oklahoma.

The Innocence Project.  The Innocence Project is a non-profit group of lawyers who re-examine the cases of people convicted of serious crimes.  The group often uses new DNA techniques to determine whether a conviction was correct or in error.  To date, the Innocence Project has exonerated 16 Virginians of serious crimes.  Some of those innocent people were on Virginia’s death row when they were exonerated of the crimes that landed them on death row.  One such case was the conviction of Earl Washington.  Convicted of rape and murder Earl Washington was sentenced to death.  Subsequent DNA testing cleared Washington of the rape and murder convictions.  Mr. Washington’s case prompted an independent audit of Virginia’s DNA testing lab.  The results were not encouraging.

  • “This laboratory that touts itself as the best DNA laboratory in the country generated erroneous test results in a capital case, twice, using two different DNA methods,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project. “The audit reveals not only that the laboratory’s most senior DNA analyst, responsible for DNA testing in many of the state’s capital cases, made serious errors, but that the laboratory’s system to catch these errors completely failed. This audit provides compelling evidence that crime labs cannot police themselves, and that only with the statutory requirement that they be subject to independent, expert oversight can we have faith that appropriate controls are in place.”

Enter the feds.

 Virginia is not the only political entity with suspect processes in criminal investigations.  Recent evidence suggests that the vaunted FBI may have been responsible for systematic and willful mismanagement of critical evidence.  Of the 2,600 convictions obtained through these flawed processes 45 resulted in the imposition of the death penalty.  More troublesome, the agency did not inform the convicts of the problems after they were discovered and spent years debating the matter rather than promptly following up on the convictions.

Redo.  You can’t undo an execution.  Conservatives in Virginia will rail against abortion as the murder of innocents.  However, reasonable people can honestly debate when life begins.  There can be no debate as to whether a person convicted of a crime is alive or not.  There can only be a discussion of whether state sanctioned murder is an appropriate remedy for the crime.  In too many cases shoddy evidence analysis and law enforcement puts these convictions in doubt.  It is time for Virginia’s politicians to restart the necessary debate as to whether the state should execute living human beings on behalf of its citizens.


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9 responses to “The problem with the death penalty”

  1. We need to do away with the death penalty for many reasons.

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    DNA testing and review should be mandatory in any capital case. All results must be made public, as well as shared with the defendant’s lawyers.

    Similarly, crime scene photos should be shown to the jury and available to the public. Ditto for statements made by family and friends of the victims during the sentencing phase.

  3. Congrats on an EXCELLENT subject that NEEDS to be written about.

    there could be thousands of people in prison – there because of – and I don’t use this word much – essentially a conspiracy that many, many folks inside the FBI – were well aware of.

    You talk about corruption. I think it’s nothing short of scandalous that the FBI was knowlingly and wrongly using hairs to positively identify people (which is often not scientifically possible) instead of just using it to rule out people (with different hair types) . This not the first time they have been caught – essentially lying about the veracity of their forensic work.

    it’s this kind of thing that undermines trust in government and institutions.

    It takes decades of effort to build a reputation – and in this case – it was based on a lie – that the FBI only sought out the truth. Not true. They purposely subverted the truth.

    and would you like to know who ordered the audit of the Virginia Labs?

    in terms of abortion – most abhor it but the strongest opponents are often ALSO opposed to birth control… which is as bad as the FBI lying in my book.

  4. I think it’s not only the death penalty. We have too many cases of police and prosecutorial misconduct in my view.

    We have too many cases like beatings and choke holds – caught on video where the police initially report different circumstances until the video comes to light – and even cases with police dash cams show some improper conduct by police (as well as just how dangerous some of these stops are to the police).

    Then we have forced false confessions and refusal by the police to routinely video each and every confession.

    Then we have withholding of evidence from the defense teams …

    deceptive and outright misrepresentation and even fabrication of lab results.

    and the Police and Prosecutors claim that sometimes they “know” the guy is guilty but can’t quite get there without doctoring things a little – then later on – we find out through DNA that these folks were falsely imprisoned – and the Police and Prosecutors basically shrug their shoulders over what I consider to be one of the most serious crimes – imprisoning someone who is innocent or worse – killing them – essentially murder by the authorities because they KNEW the evidence was bogus – and they get away with it Scott free!

    Most of us are horrified to see that some family member or someone abducted is held in captivity for years – but look at what is happening in our criminal justice system – not only false imprisonment of innocents – the death penalty.

    The police and prosecutors are no better than some of the scum that imprison and kill – and we have no real institutional accountability unless 3rd party video or DNA exposes them.

    The very people who purport to “Protect and Serve” are themselves, at times, predators…

    Keep in mind – that as a country – we have more people in prison than any other country in the world – INCLUDING many of the despotic dictatorships.

    We imprison people and ruin their lives also – for petty drug dealing – and bill us for not only their incarceration but after release , the entitlements they receive because they cannot get a job – for what? For dealing in drugs deemed illegal while the larger real drug abuse of “legal” drugs is a far larger problem but the “good” people get away with it because they’re doing it with their doctor and not on the street.

    “Prescription Drugs Now Kill More People than Illegal Drugs”

    Then we have the CIA spying on the Senate Oversight Committee – and lying about it until exposed….

    and the NSA not only capturing bulk phone calls but emails and hacking into other foreign leaders cells phones and email.

    we have riot police that we call SWAT that often turn out to be a bunch of trigger-happy yahoos that go around shooting people’s pets after they bust down the wrong door…

    so it’s more than just the death penalty –

    we have a problem where our own police, NSA, SWAT – and our own prosecutors have been and continue to engage in patterns of abuse – that is not isolated and random but rather systemic as the innocence project and 3rd party video and revelations by whistle-blowers like Snowden is showing.

    Instead of blathering about the IRS and Benghazi – we should be much more concerned about our own liberties… which are under direct and imminent threat.

  5. Andi Epps Avatar
    Andi Epps

    OK, this won’t be popular and some of it might not be legal (yet) but here goes
    In addition to many of the good ideas above:
    Capital crimes: ALL evidence needs to be admissible; ALL
    forensic evidence needs to be 100%, verified by 2 uninterested labs; ANY appealable issues need to be combined and heard through no more than 2 appeals processes heard by 2 different judges; If there is ANY DOUBT WHATSOEVER; death penalty is off the table. HOWEVER

    If convicted: Three men, one blank and a bullet in the back of the head.

    1. I like your approach. I have no moral qualms executing someone — if I’m 100% sure he’s guilty. But we need to set the highest possible standards for the death penalty. There’s no saying, oops, I’m sorry, we got it wrong after the guy is in the grave.

  6. Andi Epps Avatar
    Andi Epps

    100% agreed Jim.
    Now if we could just fix the rest of the problems that easily 🙂

  7. Zilliacus Avatar

    Get rid of the death penalty. Life in prison with no parole serves the same purpose, and allows mistakes in the judicial process to be corrected.

    Probably much cheaper in terms of judicial and legal resources consumed, since most capital defendants have taxpayer-funded legal counsel.

  8. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    ” ALL evidence needs to be admissible [in capital cases].” Subject to the rules of evidence and the Bill of Rights. A case should not turn on hearsay evidence where the original speaker cannot be cross-examined. Likewise, evidence gathered outside the scope of a search warrant and not otherwise in plain sight should still not be admitted into the trial record.

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