Psychiatry and the Death Penalty: Emerging Problems in Virginia
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
VIRGINIA’S revised capital sentencing procedures took effect on July 1, 1977. Today, eight men sit on death row in Mecklenburg.' Whatever one's views on the ethics or the efficacy of the death penalty, the reinstitution of capital punishment presents issues of great moral and social significance. Of special importance to the judiciary and the bar is the need to assure fairness and consistency in the process of imposing the ultimate sanction. I assume, for present purposes, that aggravated forms of homicide such as those classified as capital offenses in Virginia may permissibly be made punishable by death.2 But this assumption concerns offenses in the abstract; we are not thereby advised which capital offenders should pay for their deadly deeds with their own lives. The process of selection has independent moral and legal significance. In each case, those who administer criminal justice-prosecutors, jurors, courts, and governors-have it within their power to spare a human life and to show mercy. They must therefore ask not only "what did this person do?" but also "who is he and why did he do it?"