News Release

Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Applauds Abolition of the Death Penalty in Virginia

Washington, DC (March 24, 2021) – Today, the Commonwealth of Virginia became the 23rd state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to abolish or overturn the death penalty. Governor Northam issued a call to abolish the death penalty early this year and has made history by signing the legislation. Historically, Virginia has executed more people than any other state, with their last execution taking place in 2017, and is the first southern state to abolish the death penalty. By operation of the new law, the sentences of the remaining two individuals on Virginia’s death row have been commuted to life in prison without parole.

“The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has long opposed the death penalty and applauds the Virginia General Assembly and Governor Ralph Northam on this momentous repeal, bringing the country closer to finally ridding itself of this utterly inhumane form of punishment,” said NACDL President Chris Adams. “NACDL will persist in its efforts until the racist, ineffective, and barbaric practice of capital punishment is abolished throughout the land.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1973, more than 170 people have been exonerated from death row. As is often the case in our criminal legal system, the death penalty in the United States is rooted in racism and its application has been patently discriminatory. For example, a report by the Death Penalty Information Center showed that since the death penalty resumed in 1977, “295 African-American defendants have been executed for the murder of white victims, while only 21 white defendants have been executed for the murder of African-American victims.” A November 2020 Gallup Poll shows that public support for the death penalty is at its lowest level in a half-century, with more people opposed to capital punishment than at any time since 1966. The movement to abolish the death penalty has garnered significant bipartisan support over the years, as well as support from victims’ rights, prosecution, and defense organizations.

NACDL is an affiliate of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. And NACDL’s long-standing position calling for a moratorium on and abolition of the death penalty in the U.S. is recited in this board resolution.

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Contacts

Kate Holden, Public Affairs and Communications Associate, (202) 465-7624 or kholden@nacdl.org

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.

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