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July 28, 2021

"Disrupting Death: How Dedicated Capital Defenders Broke Virginia's Machinery of Death"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Corinna Lain and Doug Ramseur now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Virginia’s repeal of capital punishment in 2021 is arguably the most momentous abolitionist event since 1972, when the Supreme Court invalidated capital punishment statutes nationwide.  In part, this is because Virginia’s repeal marks the first time a Southern state abolished the death penalty.  And in part, it is because even among Southern states, Virginia was exceptional in its fealty to capital punishment.  Virginia had the broadest death penalty statute in the country, coupled with a post-conviction review process that was lightning fast and turned death sentences into executions at a rate five times the national average.  Virginia holds the record for the most executions in the history of the United States, so how did it go from all-in on the death penalty to abolition?

A critical piece of the puzzle was the fact that Virginia had not seen a new death sentence in ten years, and had only two people left on death row.  The death penalty was dying on the vine, and how that came to be owes largely to Virginia’s dedicated capital defenders, who literally worked themselves out of a job by disrupting the machinery of death at every turn.  In this Article, we (a law professor and a former regional capital defender) tell the story behind the story of Virginia’s plunging death sentences — what was happening in the trenches that the transcripts and plea deals don’t show. This is the backstory as we know it, and we share it here both to better understand Virginia’s journey, and to serve as a resource for others still navigating theirs.

July 28, 2021 at 07:03 PM | Permalink

Comments

One wonders how many additional people were murdered in Virginia due to the lessened deterrence.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Jul 28, 2021 8:35:59 PM

Studies do not appear to show that the death penalty, especially as now applied, does much for deterrence.

The major reason for the death penalty is usually recognized to be moral. The person "deserves it" or something.

Corinna Lain is a charming person, btw. She also has an interesting bio, including military service. That doesn't add to the substance to the matter. Just a personal comment.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 29, 2021 11:32:08 AM

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