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June 18, 2018

Today, the ACLU of Virginia sent a letter to Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam asking him to lift the veil of secrecy around executions in Virginia. While we oppose the death penalty and advocate for its abolishment, we understand that there will be some disagreements around the issue. However, there should be no argument whether the government should be allowed to take such action – the most final, irreversible act a government can take – in secret. "To the contrary, government should and must be required to administer the death penalty in a transparent process fully open to public view," wrote the letter. The letter discussed three key aspects of the death penalty in Virginia and proposed actions that the Governor should take to promote transparency in executions. These actions include:

  1. Direct the Department of Corrections (DOC) to make its “Execution Manual” available to the public. 
  2. Require the DOC to follow procedures that ensure that witnesses who are required by law to be present as stand-ins for the public can view the entire procedure from its start to its deadly end. 
  3. Advocate for repeal of legislation that prohibits the DOC from making public information about the drugs used in lethal injections and their sources.

In addition, the ACLU-VA urged the Governor to direct the DOC to revise its execution protocols immediately to conform fully to standards of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Death Penalty Representation Project before any additional executions are carried out.

"We urge you to act with dispatch to ensure that Virginia’s protocols for administering the death penalty exemplify the highest standards of transparency and accountability," wrote the letter. "Your failure to act would confirm that, only by keeping the process shrouded in secrecy, you and your administration can avoid the opprobrium, shame and public condemnation that would come with greater public awareness of the inhumanity and cruelty of each execution. It is time to open wide rather than close the curtains on these public killings."

"Finally, as an empathetic human being and a physician bound by an oath to do no harm, we respectfully request that you lead a re-examination of Virginia’s gruesome past and present regarding the death penalty and join us in advocating for its repeal."