RD89 - Death Penalty for Juvenile Offenders

  • Published: 2006
  • Author: Virginia State Crime Commission
  • Enabling Authority: Letters from Senator Ticer and Delegate Callahan

Executive Summary:
The Code of Virginia, § 30-156, authorizes the Virginia State Crime Commission ("Crime Commission") to study, report and make recommendations "on all areas of public safety and protection." Additionally, the Crime Commission is to study "compensation of persons in law enforcement and related fields" and to study "apprehension, trial and punishment of criminal offenders." (*1) Section 30-158(3) empowers the Crime Commission to "conduct studies and gather information and data in order to accomplish its purposes as set forth in § 30-156. . .and formulate its recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly."

Using the statutory authority granted to the Crime Commission, staff examined the constitutionality of executing a defendant who committed his crime when he was a juvenile.

During the 2005 Session of the General Assembly, Senator Patricia Ticer introduced Senate Bill 1078 (SB 1078) (*2) and Delegate Vincent Callahan introduced House Bill 1975 (HBI975), (*3) both of which would have eliminated the death penalty for defendants who committed their crimes as juveniles. (*4) Senate Bill 1078 was referred to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, and House Bill 1975 was referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee; both Committees sent a letter to the Crime Commission asking for an analysis of the proposed legislation.

On March 1, 2005, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. __, 125 S. Ct. 1183 (2005). The Court held that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments to impose the death penalty on a person who committed his crime when he was less than 18 years of age.


Because the United States Supreme Court has reversed its earlier opinions on this subject, and has declared the imposition of the death penalty on a person who committed his crime while a juvenile to be unconstitutional, it is the recommendation of the Crime Commission that Virginia law on capital murder be changed to comport with constitutional requirements.
(*1) VA. CODE ANN. § 30-156 (Michie 2004).
(*2) Senate Bill 1078, 2005 General Assembly, Reg. Sess., (Va. 2005). See attachment A.
(*3) House Bill 1975, 2005 General Assembly, Reg. Sess., (Va. 2005). See attachment B.
(*4) The two bills were identical in wording.