Feb 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Virginia Senate votes to abolish the death penalty

Photo of a statue in front of the Virginia State Capitol, photographed through a fence

The Virginia state capitol in Richmond. Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Virginia Senate on Wednesday voted 21-17 along party lines to pass a bill that would abolish the death penalty.

Why it matters: The bill, which the Virginia House and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) are expected to approve, marks a major policy shift. Virginia leads the country in the number of executions it has carried out, executing roughly 1,400 people over the past four centuries, per the Death Penalty Information Center.

Details: Democrats, who control the chamber, said capital punishment could result in the execution of innocent people and highlight the racial disparities in the death penalty's application.

  • Republicans say abolishing capital punishment would take away the possibility of achieving justice for victims' families, especially in cases of murder.

The big picture: If the bill becomes law, Virginia would become the 23rd state in the U.S. to abolish the death penalty.

  • Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Virginia has trailed only Texas in its number of executions. Virginia's most recent execution took place in 2017, and no one has received a death sentence in the state since 2011.

What to watch: President Biden has publicly opposed capital punishment and vowed to eliminate the federal death penalty.

Go deeper: America's dwindling executions

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