Public Comments for 01/29/2021 Courts of Justice - Criminal Subcommittee
HB1779 - Death penalty; abolition of current penalty.
I support the abolition of the death penalty and the conversion of the sentences of the two individuals on death row to life sentences. I have participated officially in three capital prosecutions and have supported counsel of record in several other prosecutions. It is clear that a substantial number of resources are consumed in litigating these cases, and those resources would far better protect the general public safety if they were allocated to addressing the causes of serious crime. Each of the cases I was involved in eventually led to waiver of the death penalty, and this has been a very common outcome in the past several years. This pragmatic perspective is hardly the only reason Virginia should become the first Southern state to abolish the modern death penalty. It is, however, the one that I feel is the most persuasive, bipartisan one.
Eliminate the Death Penalty o Virginia has executed more people than any other state—more than 1,300 people. o A person is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death when the victim is white, than when the victim is Black. o We’re near the top of the list in the modern era too, since federal law allowed executions to resume in the 1970s Capital punishment is a broken process that we need to end. Punishment is arbitrarily applied based on where the crime was committed or who the victim is rather than the seriousness of the offense. Virginia’s death penalty laws fail to protect the innocent, the intellectually disabled, and the mentally ill from being convicted.
I have represented many capital defendants at trial in federal court and in post-conviction in Virginia courts. I represented Earl Washington, who came within 9 days of execution, but was exonerated by DNA. He even confessed. Not all cases have DNA associated with them, so it is inevitable that we will execute an innocent person, if we haven't done so already. Virginians have already effectively rejected the death penalty; it has not been imposed a jury in 10 years. C.T. Woody, a former Richmond homicide detective and Sheriff for the City was quoted in the RTD today as now being opposed to the death penalty. It is expensive, pointless, racially discriminatory and arbitrary. Based on my experience, the most important differences between cases in which it is and is not imposed are the race of the defendant and victim, and the skill and experience of the attorneys, not the record or character of the defendant or the nature of the crime.
On the morning after the federal government rushed to kill Corey Johnson, an intellectually disabled poor black man, in our names, it is time to end this barbaric practice. The death penalty is imposed in a horribly racially biased way. It serves no purpose other than to further dehumanize all of us. Thanks to increasing awareness of the unacceptably high number of wrongful convictions that have occurred, juries have finally realized how dangerous it is to sentence someone to death and essentially never do it. It is time to join the 21st century and the rest of the civilized world in ending this despicable practice. Thank you.
My son might still be alive if there had been no penalty for timely reporting of an overdose. The girl he was living with was fearful she would be in jeopardy if she did not first 'clean up' before calling 911. This delay cost him his life. Death Penalty - our judicial system is so flawed that there is no way to know with absolute certainty if a person is guilty. Aside from that, we are not empowered to take another's life as a 'just' punishment. Sentence modification needs to remain in the hand of the judge PERIOD. They have the most detailed information about pending cases and are less encumbered with 'red tape'. Suicide is not a 'crime' it's a mental health issue. Record expungement - give people a better chance to be reintegrated into society.
Dear committee members and chair of the committee, My name is Yely Montano, and I’m CASA Virginia’s Advocacy Specialist. On behalf of CASA, a community-based organization that fights for equity and justice, our 10,000 members strongly support the passing of HB 1779. The death penalty does not align with Virginia’s values, going against our democratic system. It interferes with due process and does not promote equal protection. Additionally, data has shown how unfair and unjust this act is against individuals. There are racial and ethnic disparities in the sentencing of the death penalty. People of color account for 43% of all executions carried out since the 1970s and account for a little over 50% of those currently on death row. Cases where there is a black defendant and a white victim have a higher likelihood of resulting in a death sentence. There have been several independent state studies to support this. In North Carolina, a study on homicides committed between 1993 and 1997 found that, compared to black victims, the odds of receiving the death sentence was 3 ½ times greater if the victim was white. Similar findings were found in New Jersey and Maryland. Unfortunately, the racial biases that exist in sentencing practices have led to many being wrongfully sentenced to death row. Since the 1970s, over 150 individuals have been released from death row in as many as 26 states across the country. The death penalty does not promote public safety, it does not benefit our taxpayers, and it wrong as it disproportionately affects our black and brown communities. We at CASA strongly oppose capital punishment and believe our state should not be involved in executions. Thank you.
I agree that the death penalty should be abolished because there is a chance that they may be innocent.
HB2132 - Homicides and assaults and bodily woundings; certain matters not to constitute defenses.
Thank you for the honor to testify in support of H.B. 2132 on behalf of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. I am Judy Shepard, President and co-founder of the Foundation. When signed into law, Virginia will be a national leader with 11 other states and the District of Columbia to adopt this overdue criminal reform. You will send a message to the rest of the nation and to the world that Virginia’s justice system is free from bias and hatred. Your legislation, in fact, describes the very aims of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. When our twenty-one-year-old son, Matthew Shepard, was brutally murdered in 1998, his assailants tried to escape legal justice by claiming that Matthew’s sexual orientation was to blame for their violent actions. My husband Dennis and I launched the Matthew Shepard Foundation not only to honor Matt’s memory but to advance his personal dedication to civil and human rights, as well as to advocate for criminal justice and fairness as I am today. By sharing Matt’s story with you today, the Matthew Shepard Foundation inspires individuals, organizations and communities to embrace the dignity and equality of all people. For more than twenty years, we have worked to erase hate and prevent future crimes against LGBTQ+ people. Your legislation will help all of us to achieve our mission. The LGBTQ+ panic defense is a direct affront to the memory of Matt and all the other LGBTQ+ victims of hate crimes, because this so-called defense upholds in court the notion that violence, even homicide, is a reasonable or understandable response to a life lived openly. The LGBTQ+ panic defense allows perpetrators of violence to avoid facing the full legal consequences of their crimes, and it subjects LGBTQ+ individuals to violence two times over: first, in the terrible physical and psychological suffering that they endure at the hands of their assailants, and again in an outdated legal system that denies equal justice. We know from crime statistics that the LGBTQ+ community continues to be subjected to violence at rates significantly above the state and national averages, despite advances in legal protections. From gay bashing to actual homicides, LGBTQ+ individuals are victims of violence simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The LGBTQ+ “panic” defense relies on ugly stigmas particular to LGBTQ+ people to justify horrific violence against LGBTQ+ individuals. When a perpetrator uses the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense, they are claiming that the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression not only explains—but excuses—a loss of self-control and the subsequent violent assault or murder. Under the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense, a hate crime victim's very identity simultaneously becomes the reason for their murder and the exoneration of their murderer. To end this injustice, in 2013, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates unanimously approved Resolution 113A urging all states to ban the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense. It is time for Virginia to close this legal loophole and join the 12 U.S. jurisdictions that have already banned the “panic” defense. With HB 2132, the Virginia General Assembly is taking another step towards ensuring our justice system is free from the bias and hatred in our world.
I’m here to convey the National LGBT Bar’s strong support of HB 2132. Some may wonder why this bill is necessary today. Unfortunately, panic defenses are not a relic of the past. This bill is necessary because even today violent preparators go free or have their charges reduced when they kill or violently assault LGBTQ+ victims, simply because of an archaic and prejudiced argument that claims that the sudden revelation or realization of the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity provoked or excused the violence. In many instances, these are particularly brutal crimes. In one case where the panic defense was used, the victim was stabbed and slashed more than five dozen times. In yet another, the victim was bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher, leaving her for dead as the defendant ransacked her apartment. When he later heard her gasping for breath as she regained consciousness he beat her again with the fire extinguisher until he “killed it” as he later told the police. And, many of us are familiar with the horrific and senseless murder of Matthew Shepard, who was brutally pistol-whipped, tortured, and tied to a fence post, where he was left to die. All of these defendants raised the LGBTQ panic defense in their cases and several of them were successful. So, why is this bill necessary? This bill is necessary because these and so many other horrific cases haunt our judicial system. This bill is necessary for the preservation of justice for these and other victims. It is as simple and complicated as this: LGBTQ+ people are being violently harmed and viciously murdered simply because of who they are, and the noxious LGBTQ panic defense allows their attackers to escape the criminal sentences that would otherwise be imposed on them but for the sexual orientation or gender identity of their victims. This is why the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates, at the National LGBT Bar’s urging, voted unanimously in 2013 to endorse a ban on the LGBTQ panic defense. This is why 12 other jurisdictions have enacted such a ban. Violence directed towards LGBTQ+ victims should not be justified simply because of who we are. Our identity should not be a defensible reason for assault or murder. To justify and excuse violence and murder as a result of the victim’s status as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer person is to deem LGBTQ lives as inherently less worthy, less human, and less deserving of justice as compared to those who do not identify as LGBTQ. The National LGBT Bar hopes this subcommittee and the Virginia General Assembly will join other legislatures that have passed similar bills on strong bipartisan votes, some of them even unanimously. We urge you to support enactment of this important legislation which will prevent violent criminals from escaping the punishment they deserve and will make equal justice under the law a living, breathing reality for LGBTQ victims of violence. Thank you.
Madam Chairman and Members of the Committee, I strongly support H2132. Thank you.
Dear Delegates: Despite securing important legal protections over the past several decades, LGBTQ individuals—especially transgender individuals—continue to face shocking levels of violent assaults and even murders. The LGBTQ panic defense allows the violent perpetrators of these horrendous acts to receive a lesser punishment or even escape punishment altogether by claiming that the sudden realization of the victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation caused or excused the violence. The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) strongly supports Delegate Danica Roem’s legislation to ban the use of the LGBTQ panic defense, and we urge you to support this legislation as well. NCTE is the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people. Under this panic defense, an LGBTQ hate crime victim's identity simultaneously becomes their death sentence and the exoneration of their murderer. We are thankful that Virginia is taking a stand against a doctrine that, at its core, excuses murder based on prejudice. NCTE requests that you support HB 2132 as it makes its way through the legislative process and, in doing so, support the LGBTQ residents of Virginia. Sincerely, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen Deputy Executive Director
Hello, my name is Daniel and I am 15 years old. I am very grateful today for being allowed to speak my mind on why I am in support of HB 2132. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it is frightening to see the panic defense law still in action in Virginia. Not only will banning this law make Virginia a safer place, but a more just place. For far too long, members of the LQBTQ+ community have been seen as less under the law, but passing this bill will be a major step towards a better Virginia. I urge you all to support HB 2132 for a safer and more equal Virginia. Thank you for listening.
When employed successfully, this defense implies that LGBTQ+ victims themselves are to blame for whatever harm they suffered at the hands of their attacker. Given the disproportionate level of violence experienced by the LGBTQ+ community, especially by those who are transgender or gender non-conforming , the availability of this defense all but ensures justice will not be handed down to victims. Eliminating this defense would be a step towards rooting out anti-LGBTQ+ bias from Virginia’s criminal justice system. Further, in the past seven years, the panic defense has been banned in 11 states and the District of Columbia and there are currently eight states in addition to Virginia that have introduced this legislation. Most of this legislation has been introduced in the past two years, signaling an encouraging trend nationwide. We believe that this legislation will go a long way in “help[ing] to end the legitimization of violence against” the LGBTQ+ community and “ensur[ing] that victims obtain equal justice.” It is well-documented that LGBTQ+ people, especially transgender women of color, are increasingly the victims of hate crimes. The National LGBT Bar Association notes that “1 out of 5 lesbian, gay, and bisexual people living in the United States will experience a hate crime in their lifetime, and 1 out of 4 transgender people will.” Nationally, the reported incidents of anti-LGBT hate crimes have continued to increase over the last several years. The most recent statistics from the FBI indicate that 1,393 incidents of anti-LGBT hate crimes were reported in 2019. Importantly, the LGBTQ+ community has already been identified as a targeted group in Virginia. In 2020, the Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that one of “the two top groups that are most likely to involve a physical assault with injury [is] the LGBTQ community” and further, that they are “most likely to be beaten and have serious physical injury.” Though these statistics are alarming, it is important to recognize that they are also likely under-representative of the violence that LGBTQ+ people experience. A number of barriers contribute to this underreporting, including “distrust between targeted communities and law enforcement. Research shows that when LGBTQ people do report violence to police, they have experienced discriminatory treatment, hostility, and in some instances, physical violence. Because of this, for some LGBT people who have experienced homophobic or transphobic violence, the criminal legal system is not a safe or viable option. Given the inherently homophobic and transphobic nature of the panic defense, it seems likely its continued use has contributed to this hesitancy to report. Allowing this defense dehumanizes LGBTQ people and sends a message to other defendants or would-be assailants and to the public that they can always rely upon this to mitigate any punishment. Thus, eliminating the LGBTQ+ panic defense will likely go a long way to both reduce these crimes and ensure that they are reported. The panic defense uses the bias of jurors and the judge to their advantage and it perpetuates anti-LGBTQ+ stigma and suggests, as the ABA points out, it runs contrary to our constitutional values as a society, the proposed hate crimes bill, and it should be eliminated before it can be used again. We urge the Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee to support this legislation.
It is past time that Virginia prohibits the use of the gay or transgender “panic” defense. This would ensure that anti-LGBTQ hate crimes are prosecuted as they should be. Virginia courts must recognize LGBTQ lives as equal to all others. This is especially important to combatting the rise of violence against transgender women, especially Black transgender women.
Distinguished members of the Courts of Justice - Criminal Subcommittee, my name is Casey Pick, and I write today in support of HB 2132. In addition to serving as the Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, the nation's leading provider of suicide prevention and crisis intervention services for LGBTQ young people, I am also writing in my personal capacity as an attorney and a Virginia resident. Research based on the 2017 National Crime Victimization Survey reveals that LGBT people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBT people to experience violent victimization. An October 2020 poll that Morning Consult conducted on behalf of The Trevor Project among a national sample of 1,200 young people, half LGBTQ and half straight/cisgender, between the ages of 13–24 found that an overwhelming majority of LGBTQ youth (71%) expressed low levels of trust in the police, with percentages of youth who stated they had no trust in the police at all highest among transgender and nonbinary youth (59%). The Trevor Project's 2020 National LGBTQ Youth Mental Health Survey found that 33% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing physical harm because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; those youth who experienced such violence were almost three times as likely to report a suicide attempt in the past 12 months (31%) compared to those who had not suffered such violence (11%). These damning statistics are inescapably tied to a justice system that devalues LGBTQ lives, especially those of transgender people, by permitting the use of so-called panic defenses based on a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. Whether used to claim a perpetrator was provoked, was engaging in self-defense, or had diminished capacity, the panic defense always boils down to the fundamental injustice of shifting blame onto LGBTQ victims of crime for the violence committed against them. In 2013, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates unanimously approved Resolution 113A, calling for states to ban the LGBTQ “panic” defense. Since then, 11 states and the District of Columbia have answered that call, passing legislation putting an end to this relic of bias and stigma in our justice system. It is time for Virginia to act to close this legal loophole and bring us closer to fulfilling our nation's promise of "equal justice under law."
Greetings Chair Mullin and Committee Members, Thank you for taking the time to read my SUPPORT for HB 2132 (Roem). Violence against another human being is unacceptable. Transgender folks are at high risk for interpersonal violence and the statistics are sobering. It is an abhorrent defense to suggest that sexual orientation or gender identity not only explains — but excuses — the assault of another human being. When we allow perpetrators of violence to be fully or partially acquitted of crimes against LGBTQ+ victims by suggesting that their behavior is the responsibility of their victim, we have abdicated our responsibility as human beings to provide care and protection for one another. I urge you to stand and communicate clearly your belief that all lives are valuable and everyone is worth of safety and protection by voting YES for HB2132. Thank you for your service. all protections that this defense implies that LGBTQ+ lives are worth less than others.
Out & Equal, a global organization that partners with Fortune 500 companies to advance LGBTQ workplace equality, urges every member of the Courts of Justice Committee to support House Bill 2132, which bans the use of the LGBTQ “panic” defense. We thank Delegate Danica Roem for serving as the lead patron of this bill and for Delegates Mullin, Sickles, and Levine for joining as chief co-patrons of House Bill 2132. This unjust defense harms the LGBTQ community and allows a legal loophole that results in repeated miscarriages of justice. It must not be allowed. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community (most notably, transgender individuals) continues to experience violence at rates significantly above the state and national averages, despite the pro-equality legislation and policies that have been enacted in recent years. Often, LGBTQ individuals are victims of violence simply because of who they are; they are victimized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. To make matters worse, criminal defendants have successfully relied on the LGBTQ “panic” defense to mitigate or even eliminate their responsibility for such violence. This must end. In a legal system built on the idea of “justice,” those who inflict violence upon LGBTQ individuals should not be able to justify that violence by relying on the panic defense in its various forms. No one should ever be excused from murder or other violent acts simply because their victim is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, and Virginia should send an irrefutable message that it fully values the lives and dignity of all people, including those who are LGBTQ. The LGBTQ “panic” defense is purely victim blaming and is rooted in homophobia and transphobia. This legislation will hold violent offenders accountable for their hate crimes and send a message that hate and hate-based violence is not tolerated in Virginia. Out & Equal is pleased to stand with the National LGBT Bar Association, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Equality Virginia, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Human Rights Campaign, Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice, the Anti-Defamation League, LGBTQ individuals and allies all across the Commonwealth, and many other organizations in wholeheartedly and enthusiastically endorsing House Bill 2132. Through our work with hundreds of the largest companies in the United States, we know that American businesses likewise want to see state laws that uphold the rights, including the safety, of LGBTQ Americans. While we wish such legislation was not needed, it is, and passage of this legislation will be a tremendous benefit to LGBTQ crime victims. We hope you will fully support this legislation to ensure justice for all. Thank you.
Dear Members of the Committee: The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) thanks you for the opportunity to submit testimony on HB 2132, a vital measure that will help ensure victims of violent crimes and their families obtain equal justice regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We urge you to swiftly pass this important legislation. HRC is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBTQ people and realize a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all. As an advocate for LGBTQ individuals, HRC believes that a perpetrator’s realization of a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity should never be available as a legal defense for violent crimes. The so-called LGBTQ “panic defense,” sometimes called the “gay or transgender panic defense,” allows a criminal defendant to justify violent crimes on the purported grounds that the defendant’s shock at discovering the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity caused the defendant’s violent reaction. These panic defenses are typically used to bolster other defenses like provocation or diminished capacity and, if successful, lessens a defendant’s charge or sentence. These panic defenses legitimize dangerous prejudices against LGBTQ individuals and characterize their very existence as “reasonable grounds” for violence. In essence, the availability of these so-called “defenses” sends the harmful message that the lives of LGBTQ people are worth less than the lives of others. While it might be tempting to dismiss these defenses as relics from a less tolerant era, they have been used to drastically reduce the sentences of violent perpetrators as recently as April 2018. The continued use of these defenses is especially alarming in the face of a rise in hate-motivated crimes against LGBTQ individuals. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs recently reported that hate-motivated homicides of LGBTQ individuals has steadily increased since 2012 and has increased 86% between 2016 and 2017. According to the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, over 19% of all hate crimes reported in 2019 were based on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, HRC recorded more violent deaths of 3 transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2020 than in any year since we began tracking this violence in 2013. In 2013, the American Bar Association (ABA) passed a resolution declaring that “an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity does not trigger in another person a medical or psychological panic, does not constitute legally adequate provocation, and does not make a person more threatening.” The ABA urged legislatures to prohibit the use of LGBTQ panic 5 defenses in order to prevent discrimination against and protect LGBTQ individuals. In short, LGBTQ panic defenses send the destructive message that LGBTQ victims are less worthy of justice and their attackers justified in their violence. Their continued availability in state courts of law is a direct attack to the dignity and safety of LGBTQ residents. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in favor of this critical bill to help ensure justice for LGBTQ victims of violence. Sincerely, Sarah Warbelow Legal Director, Human Rights Campaign
HB2167 - Parole; notice and certification, monthly reports, discretionary early consideration.
VSC NAACP Strongly support both 2167 and 2163
HB2194 - Communicating threats of death or bodily injury to a person with intent to intimidate; penalties.
HB2263 - Death penalty; abolition of current penalty, repeals certain provisions.
I am Rev. LaKeisha Cook writing on behalf of the Virginia Interfaith Center which represents over 20,000 people of faith from across the Commonwealth. As people of faith, we believe in human dignity and redemption. We believe it is time for Virginia to end a policy that has a clear history of racial oppression and change the conversation to addressing how we can help those harmed by violence and how we can prevent violence more effectively. Virginia’s death penalty is rooted in racial oppression. In the beginning of the 20th Century, lawmakers updated the Commonwealth’s constitution to encourage an increase in state-sanctioned executions against Black residents as a way of enforcing Jim Crow and preserving the “social order.” Lynchings of Black people had become so commonplace that lawmakers felt they had to wrestle the noose out of the hands of the lynch mob by reassuring them that the state would take on the responsibility of carrying out executions. Between 1901 and 1981, the Commonwealth executed 258 Black people for a wide variety of offenses, including armed robbery and attempted rape. During this time, nearly six times more Black people were executed than white people, and no white person was executed for any crime other than murder. More than a century later, race continues to influence every aspect of capital cases, from charging decisions and jury selection to sentencing. We strongly believe it is time to abolish this policy.
VSC NAACP Strongly support both 2167 and 2163
The League of Women Voters of Virginia supports HB 2263. Capital punishment violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution. Imposition of a death sentence depends to a significant extent upon the effectiveness of counsel, the race of the victim, and circumstances of the defendant. As a result, some guilty parties are condemned to death while others receive lesser sentences. Worse, innocent people have been convicted and executed. From a purely economic standpoint, capital punishment costs the taxpayers. Keeping an inmate on death row costs tens, if not hundreds of thousands dollars more each year than maintaining that person in a super max prison. Mandatory appeals to the highest court in the state, plus appeals to federal courts can cost hundreds of thousands more. Drawn-out legal proceedings waste the time and energy of the courts. The lack of closure can exhaust and inflict pain on the victims' families. Moreover, studies show that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime. States that use capital punishment consistently show higher murder rates than states that have abolished it. Lastly, the death penalty is immoral. A just society should never inflict death as a punishment.