Virginia’s state senate passed a bill on Thursday by a vote of 23-17 that prohibits the state from sentencing defendants with severe mental illness to death.
The bill defines “severe mental illness” as the “exhibition of active psychotic symptoms that substantially impair a person’s capacity to (i) appreciate the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of the person’s conduct; (ii) exercise rational judgment in relation to the person’s conduct; or (iii) conform the person’s conduct to the requirements of the law.” The bill explicitly excludes the effects of drug or alcohol abuse. It will be a jury’s decision as to whether a defendant meets the criteria for severe mental illness.
Democratic Senator Barbara Favola originally introduced the bill. Four Republican senators and all of the Democratic senators supported the bill. Senator Favola argued that individuals who were unable to be fully culpable for their crimes should not be given capital punishment. Opponents of the bill said that there are already safeguards in place to prevent defendants with severe mental illness from the death penalty.
The bill will now be sent to Virginia’s lower house for a vote.