We just made history in the House of Delegates by passing legislation to abolish the death penalty and repeal drug-related mandatory minimums. Today was a monumental day in the effort to dismantle painful and ineffective criminal justice policies that have continued for far too long in the Commonwealth.
I’ve talked a lot this session about the arguments for why we should repeal the death penalty. They touch on everything from the moral implications of the death penalty, to the racial bias in how it is applied, to its ineffectiveness, to its cost. The one that keeps me up at night, is that as long as the death penalty remains in place we run the risk of executing an innocent person.
Virginia knows the risks of killing an innocent person well. The Commonwealth came within eight days of executing Earl Washington, an innocent man. There have been over 170 exonerations from death row nationwide since 1973, meaning at least one person is exonerated for every 9 that are executed. The Commonwealth’s continued use of the death penalty has the potential to kill innocent Virginians.
With the passage of HB 2263 earlier today, we are that much closer to finally abolishing the death penalty in Virginia.
We didn’t stop there. The House also passed legislation repealing drug-related mandatory minimum sentences – another crucial piece of criminal justice reform.
Mandatory minimums are expensive, disproportionately impact people of color, and have not proven to be an effective crime deterrent
As a prosecutor, I’ve seen time and time again how mandatory minimums do more harm than good. They remove judges, who are there to consider all aspects of the case, from the sentencing equation completely. We’ve made so much progress in reforming our justice system over the last year and this bill is a critical piece of that effort.
These reforms were decades in the making. We’re here today because of the dedication of advocates who have fought for years to make this happen. To every person who has pushed for these historic reforms, thank you.
Michael P. Mullin