Fairness Urged for Death Penalty Cases

Sep 5, 2013

Virginia’s laws and processes in administering the death penalty can and should be improved.  That’s according to a report unveiled through a project sponsored by the American Bar Association.

The goal of the Death Penalty Assessment Team’s findings is to reduce the risk of wrongful conviction or execution.

The purpose of the report was not to oppose or support capital punishment, according to Team member and former Attorney General Mark Earley.

“If we’re going to have a death penalty, I think everyone would agree we have to get it right. We have to make sure that due process is afforded.”

The team examined 12 aspects of Virginia’s death penalty administration —from arrest to execution. Chairman and Professor John Douglass said the report recommends improvements in police identification and interrogation procedures to reduce the risk of mistaken identification.

“For example, something as simple as having a line-up conducted by an officer who doesn’t know which person is the suspect.  It makes the process blind and therefore it makes the process fair, so that even unintentionally, people can’t suggest what an answer ought to be.”

Douglass said other recommendations include broadening restrictive pretrial discovery rules, better preservation of biological evidence, and relaxing rules on post-conviction review.

“They’re aimed at getting more facts in front of the courts so that decisions can be made on the merits and mistakes corrected.”

The team hopes the report will help convince lawmakers to pass improvements.