I am a conservative Republican, and I am against the death penalty.
During the ten years I have been privileged to represent the 20th District in the Virginia Senate, I have consistently opposed efforts to expand it. That may seem counter-intuitive for those who assume conservatives must support the death penalty as a key component of Republicans’ “tough on crime” stance. In my view, you can be “tough on crime,” be a conservative Republican, and be against the death penalty for both moral and legal reasons.
Opposition to capital punishment is not just a personal belief of mine, but is consistent with my conservative principles. This reasoning is based upon three basic principles: my strong faith in God and the gift of life; my appreciation that our judicial system is not infallible; and my firm belief that capital punishment empowers the government with an awesome authority to which it is not entitled.
In theory, the death penalty makes sense: people who commit heinous acts forfeit their right to live. And as human beings, vengeance has become a part of our emotional lexicon in seeking justice for the unconscionable murder of another human being. However, the death penalty in practice is not that simple.
Conservatives like myself believe in life, and I am unabashedly pro-life and committed to upholding the sanctity of life. It is a part of my faith in God, and a cornerstone of the basic principles for which I stand every day. As long as I can remember, I was raised to respect and honor life as a gift from God. Consequently, I believe decisions on life are reserved for our Creator, no matter who we are, and no matter at what point we are in that journey.
It is not difficult to find those advocating for a right to abortion on demand conversely opposing the death penalty. And, it is no less difficult to find those opposing abortion conversely supporting capital punishment. For me, these positions are inherently inconsistent. I am for life. And life, means “life” to me.
Conservatives don’t trust the government to get it right every time. Indeed, we’d consider it a substantial improvement if we could trust government to get it right most of the time. There are ample examples of our system of justice making mistakes, including wrongfully sentencing innocent people to death. There are hundreds of people in this country who have been wrongfully convicted, and eventually released, after serving time on death row.
The advent of DNA evidence has given us irrefutable proof that our criminal justice system has sentenced innocent people to die. Evidence we once thought reliable, like eyewitness identification, is not always accurate. Over 170 people sentenced to death in this country have been subsequently exonerated, including Earl Washington here in Virginia. That error caused Mr. Washington to spend years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit, and millions of your taxpayer dollars utilized by the government to correct that mistake.
We must be honest enough to admit that despite our best intentions, human beings simply cannot be right all of the time. Because this is an irrefutable truth: if the government kills someone and later finds out they were innocent, we simply cannot rectify that horrible mistake. Conservatives like me do not believe the Government should have this ultimate authority.
Many people think executions save the judicial system and the taxpayer money. Actually, it costs more for the government to execute an individual than it does to have them spend life in prison without parole.
Capital punishment is more about the power of the government over its people than it is about justice. We must both admit and concede that the death penalty does not deter murder. Yet, we the people are inclined to give the government this power because we have an innate desire for retribution and accountability when heinous crimes occur. But what we tend to forget in ceding this power to the government, is that we have granted the state with a power that is the final and most ultimate demonstration of its authority over its citizens.
I am supporting the current legislation pending in the General Assembly to end to the death penalty, so long as those convicted of aggravated murder are never allowed to be set free, and so long as they are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. If that is the bill, then I will support it; if it is not, then I will not.