The administration of the death penalty in Virginia suffers from several systemic and fundamental failings. These failings raise doubts about whether the process is just and the results accurate. Without widespread reform in this system, support for the death penalty will continue to decline.

For proponents of the death penalty, this report should serve as a primer on the reforms necessary to ameliorate concerns about the fairness of the system. But it is more than that. This report describes how the death penalty is administered in Virginia more completely than any study with which I am familiar. It should be studied carefully by any person, and certainly any political or civic leader, who seeks an informed and responsible position on this controversial subject.

~Steven D. Benjamin

In April of 2000, the ACLU of Virginia published its first report on the status of the death penalty in Virginia. Since that time, a remarkable number of changes have taken place on this issue both in Virginia and throughout the country, which necessitated a second edition of the report. The first report examined four aspects of the administration of capital punishment in Virginia: prosecutorial discretion in the charging of capital crimes, quality of legal representation for the accused at trial, appellate review of trials resulting in the death penalty and the role of race. This report will look at those four areas and also add several other issues: the problem of prosecutorial misconduct in capital cases, the problem of executing mentally retarded offenders, the question of executing juvenile offenders and the danger of executing wrongfully convicted persons, as shown by the growing number of individuals who have been exonerated while on death row.