Bill to Ban Juveniles on Death Row

By: Whitney Holmes
By: Whitney Holmes

The General Assembly will have to legislate on a lot of controversial issues this session, one being the death penalty.

The "Death Penalty Enhancement Act," the brainchild of Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, seeks to eliminate the 'triggerman requirement' for those on death row and also to eliminate the automatic life in prison when a jury is hung on the issue of capital punishment.

This bill is now being challenged. Lobbyists from the group, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, currently have 25 co-sponsors for a bill that would ban capital punishment for those under 18. The group's argument is that those under 18 cannot be tried as adults because biologically they aren't adults yet.

"Those under 21, their brains aren't fully developed, especially in the impulse control area. People with teenagers, I mean I remember being a teenager and my impulse control was not great, and that is something that diminishes the culpability of the juvenile offender," said Mikhaela Payden-Travers from VADP.

The Attorney General's office disagrees.

"There are some crimes that are so heinous that they deserve capital punishment. In some instances, those crimes are carried out by those who are under the age of 18, with the criminals fully appreciating and fully knowing how severe their crimes are and in fact are wrong and against the law," stated the office.

The office of the Attorney General said they support letting it be up to the local prosecutor and the jury to decide whether or not someone deserves the death penalty. They say the sniper trial, where a minor was sentenced to life in prison, proves the existing laws are sound.

But Payden-Travers says the sniper trial shows the pitfalls of the death penalty since all the murders happened in Maryland and Virginia, where there is capital punishment, and not in Washington, DC, where there isn't, therefore, disproving the logic that the death penalty deters crime.

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