Virginia Senate Upholds Governor Kaine's Veto of Bills That Would Have Eliminated the "Triggerman" Rule

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
April 4, 2007 12:00 am

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Legislators Reject Governor’s Attempt to Block Other Death Penalty Expansion Bills

RICHMOND, VA – The Virginia Senate today upheld Governor Tim Kaine’s veto of two bills that could have dramatically increased the number of executions in Virginia by allowing capital charges to be brought against accomplices and others only indirectly involved in first degree murders.

At least two senators needed to change the votes they cast during the legislative session in order to prevent an override. That is exactly what happened when Senators Richard Saslaw and John Edwards supported the Governor’s veto, despite having voted in favor of the bills during the session. The vote was 14 in favor of upholding the veto, 25 opposed, and one abstention. Senator Russell Potts abstained.

“The governor and 14 senators may have just saved Virginia from the ignominy of replacing Texas as the state with highest execution rate in the nation,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.

“This is a situation where one can support the death penalty, but still oppose these bills because they will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and there is no indication they will have any positive effect on public safety,” added Willis.

The bills, SB 1288 and HB 2348, would have eliminated Virginia’s “triggerman” rule, which states that only the person who actually commits a murder qualifies for a capital crime, except in cases of murder for hire or murder ordered by a drug dealer or terrorist.

Death penalty critics, who point out that Virginia ranks second only to Texas in the number of persons executed, feared that elimination of the rule might encourage prosecutors to bring many more death penalty cases and cause more executions to take place.

Several studies in recent years have given failing grades to Virginia’s death penalty. These studies question the quality of legal representation for indigent defendants, the reluctance of appellate courts to review trial convictions and arcane procedural rules that benefit prosecutors.

In addition to SB 1288 and HB 2348, Governor Kaine vetoed HB 2750 (premeditated killing of a judge), HB 2347 (premeditated killing of a witness) and SB 1116 (premeditated killing of a judge, jurist or witness). But both the House and the Senate voted to override the Governor’s veto of these bills. Death penalty opponents opposed these bills, but said that they are not likely to affect the number of executions in Virginia.

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