September 12, 2006

Equal Justice & Fair Play, a comprehensive study led by Joseph Tydings, a former United States Attorney who later served as a United States Senator and a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, finds that a majority of the protections recommended by the Illinois Commission do not exist in Virginia. Some of the study’s recommendations, although not yet in place in the Commonwealth, are under study by the legislature or other governmental agencies. Some of the recommendations may require modification to work effectively in the Commonwealth. Some may be inappropriate for our capital justice system. In each instance, however, the recommendations provide a structured starting point from which to design and implement an objective and comprehensive measure of our progress or failure as we continue our commitment to a high quality system of capital justice in the Commonwealth.

Death penalty supporters and opponents can agree that a system which permits execution of the innocent has no moral authority. The same may be said for a system which, on occasion, capriciously results in the death penalty for one defendant and life imprisonment for another, based on similar factual circumstances. Such a system undermines respect for the law in general and our criminal justice system in particular.

While we pray that our system has not resulted in the execution of an innocent person, we do know there is strong evidence that, on occasion, the system works capriciously. If we are to maintain a system of capital punishment, it is time for Virginia to carefully examine that system to assure that all findings of guilt and punishment are accurate, are as just as possible, and are consistent across the Commonwealth.

~William G. Broaddus, Former Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia (1985-86)