By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Debate over the death penalty may soon begin in West Virginia, as HB 2555 was introduced in the House of Delegates on Friday. This initial version of the bill, sponsored by Del. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, focuses specifically on those convicted of first degree murder. As outlined in W.Va. Code §61-2-2, the current penalty for committing such a crime is “confinement in the penitentiary for life.”
Under Foster’s bill, death would become the default punishment for all convictions of first degree murder, except in the instances of certain “mitigating circumstances.”
The criminal history of the convicted murderer would be taken into account, as would their age. The mental state and overall character of the individual would also be a factor in determining the appropriate punishment. For a sentence of death to be imposed, the bill requires a jury’s unanimous agreement that there are no mitigating circumstances, or that the severity of the murder outweighs any such mitigating circumstances.
The proposed bill further requires that the State Supreme Court of Appeals automatically review cases resulting in any sentence of death within 10 days of receiving the transcript from the court of record. This review would be done in addition to any appeal filed by the convicted party. Should such an appeal be denied and the verdict upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, execution would then be carried out through lethal injection.
“I think it’s just a terrible, inhumane policy,” Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion – who serves as Minority Chair of the House Judiciary Committee – told The RealWV on Sunday. “It’s especially hypocritical coming from people who say that they’re pro-life.”
“A lot of other states have had difficulty in the last couple of years making sure the death penalty is even legal under the U.S. Constitution,” Garcia continued. “What this legislation is doing is trying to insert a new level of complexity and unfairness, along with an inhumane – in the 21st Century – penalty, where we already have many problems just providing a fair system.”
“And really it does nothing to help public safety, which should be the main goal for any type of criminal justice system,” Garcia concluded.
HB 2555 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. It remains to be seen if Committee Chair Del. Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, will elect to open discussion.