John Whitehead, president of the conservative Rutherford Institute, recently voiced concerns in the Huffington Post about expanding the death penalty in Virginia. He noted, “As capital punishment studies have shown, whether or not you are sentenced to death often has little to do with the crime committed and everything to do with your race, where you live, and who prosecutes your case.” Whitehead cited several reasons for not expanding the death penalty, including the risk of executing the innocent, the opening to prosecutorial overreach, the lack of a deterrent effect from the death penalty and its high costs. He cited Death Penalty Information Center data that showed the murder rate in states without the death penalty was nearly 40% lower than in states with the death penalty. The expansion bill was defeated in a Virginia Senate committee.

Rutherford concluded, “It is time for our elected representatives to ensure that their legislative efforts reflect the priorities of their constituents. For most Virginians, that means keeping a roof over their heads, food on the table and ensuring that their taxpayer dollars are being used where they can do the most good. At a time when Virginia lawmakers are being forced to eliminate thousands of jobs, slash agencies’ spending and trim millions from education and Medicaid programs for the indigent, elderly and disabled, the last thing our representatives need to be doing is adding to the tax burden by expanding the scope of the death penalty.”

(J. Whitehead, “Virginians Should Say No to Expanding Death Penalty,” Huffington Post, February 16, 2010). See also Costs and Deterrence.