JLARC report is limited, misleading, and draws wrong conclusions from own data.The ACLU of Virginia today released a critique of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission's recently published study of the death penalty in Virginia . The ACLU, which produced a similar study in April 2000, compliments JLARC for its effort and some of its conclusions, but reports that many of its findings are muddled and that the study is too limited to support its title, Review of the Virginia System of Capital Punishment.
Of great concern to the ACLU is JLARC's conclusion that race is no longer a factor in the application of the death penalty in Virginia . The ACLU's study, covering most of the last 20 years, determined that death sentences are far more likely in instances where the victim is white and that the highest rate of death sentences occurs when the defendant is black and the victim is white. But JLARC's report, looking only at the last five years of data, concluded that race was not a factor.
"It is somewhat astonishing that based on a snapshot of very recent and very limited data, JLARC has pronounced our death penalty system to be free of racial discrimination," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. "This is, at best, a premature conclusion. At worst, it is downright wrong."
The ACLU is also concerned that the title of the report, Review of the Virginia System of Capital Punishment, has misled the public and legislators into believing that is it comprehensive. In fact, the report only addressed two aspects of the death penalty, judicial review and prosecutorial discretion.
"A number of people have reacted as though JLARC's report answers all the questions regarding the death penalty in Virginia ," said Laura LaFay, ACLU of Virginia associate director and the principal author of the ACLU's earlier report. "But it actually overlooks many important facets of the issue. For example, JLARC does not specifically address the quality of counsel received by capital defendants, or police and prosecutorial misconduct, or the impact of socio-economic status on death sentences."
"Mostly, we think JLARC needs to return to the drawing table," added LaFay. "The race issue, among others, should be addressed again by JLARC, and the study should be expanded to include other aspects of the death penalty."
Copies of the ACLU's eight-page analysis of the JLARC report will be distributed to all members of the House of Delegates and the Senate, as well as other public officials. It is available on-line at http://members.aol.com/acluva or by contacting the ACLU of Virginia.
A list of the ACLU's principal findings follows.
Principal Findings from ACLU Analysis of JLARC Death Penalty Study
1. JLARC Incorrectly Concludes That Race Is Not a Factor in the Application of the Death Penalty in Virginia
2. JLARC Implies that Innocent Persons Have Not Been Executed in Virginia
3. JLARC Downplays its Finding that the Virginia Supreme Court Does Not Conduct Legitimate Proportionality Review
4. JLARC's Findings Mean that Clemency is an Unreliable Safeguard
5. JLARC Has Not Addressed Critical Aspects of the Death Penalty
Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia Laura LaFay, Associate Director, ACLU of Virginia 804-644-8022