In 1995 Virginia had 57 men waiting for execution on death row. Â Today there are 8. In the last six years Virginia has sent only six people to death row after sending more than 40 in the previous 8 years.[read_more] Across the country the number of inmates awaiting execution has decreased.
No executions are currently scheduled in Virginia. The Commonwealth ranks third in the number of executions after Texas and Oklahoma. We have executed 110 people since 1976.
When a sentence of ‘life without parole’ was introduced it helped to reduce the number of executions. Also a factor was the establishment of 4 regional offices around Virginia of attorneys who do nothing but defend people accused of crimes that could result in the death penalty. This means defendants have much better representation than they had in the past resulting in fewer death sentences. The year before these offices were set up in 2004 six men were sentenced to die. Since the four offices have been established Virginia has not sent more than 2 people to death row in any one year.
A recent study by University of Virginia law professor John G. Douglass concluded that the number of capital murder charges has declined, but not as rapidly as the number of death sentences. Virginia prosecutors obtained an average of 34 capital murder indictments a year between 1995 and 1999, but only 22 per year from 2008 through 2013. The percentage of those cases going to trial fell from 38 percent in the late ’90s to 19 percent, suggesting more cases are being resolved by plea negotiations resulting in punishment less than death.
“Virginia prosecutors have not abandoned the death penalty,” Douglass wrote. “Instead, increasingly, they bargain with it.”
Douglass agrees with others who cite establishment of the state-funded capital defender’s offices, which operate on a budget of $3.5 million a year, as one of the reasons Virginia’s death row has been steadily shrinking.
“A capable and vigorous defense no doubt accounts â€” at least in part â€” for the increased willingness of prosecutors to resolve capital cases short of death,” Douglass wrote.
Another reason for the decline in executions is the large number of people on death row being exonerated makes juries less likely to send people to death row.
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