HB84: Capital cases; sentencing defendant, jury instructions.

HOUSE BILL NO. 84

Offered January 13, 2016
Prefiled December 10, 2015
A BILL to amend and reenact § 19.2-264.4 of the Code of Virginia, relating to sentencing in capital cases.
Patron-- Marshall, R.G.

Committee Referral Pending

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That § 19.2-264.4 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:

§ 19.2-264.4. Sentence proceeding.

A. Upon a finding that the defendant is guilty of an offense which may be punishable by death, a proceeding shall be held which shall be limited to a determination as to whether the defendant shall be sentenced to death or life imprisonment. Upon request of the defendant, a jury shall be instructed (i) that for all Class 1 felony offenses committed after January 1, 1995, a defendant shall not be eligible for parole if sentenced to imprisonment for life; (ii) that an individual who was sentenced to death in the Commonwealth and twice scheduled to be executed was later granted an absolute pardon absolving him of guilt for a capital murder conviction on the basis of DNA testing; (iii) about any cases in the United States in which an individual has been posthumously exonerated for a crime for which such individual was executed; and (iv) that eyewitness identifications have been shown in many cases to be inaccurate and highly susceptible to suggestion. In case of trial by jury, where a sentence of death is not recommended, the defendant shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life. The Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court shall be responsible for compiling and updating the information required by clause (iii).

A1. In any proceeding conducted pursuant to this section, the court shall permit the victim, as defined in § 19.2-11.01, upon the motion of the attorney for the Commonwealth, and with the consent of the victim, to testify in the presence of the accused regarding the impact of the offense upon the victim. The court shall limit the victim's testimony to the factors set forth in clauses (i) through (vi) of subsection A of § 19.2-299.1.

B. In cases of trial by jury, evidence may be presented as to any matter which the court deems relevant to sentence, except that reports under the provisions of § 19.2-299, or under any rule of court, shall not be admitted into evidence.

Evidence which may be admissible, subject to the rules of evidence governing admissibility, may include the circumstances surrounding the offense, the history and background of the defendant, and any other facts in mitigation of the offense. Facts in mitigation may include, but shall not be limited to, the following: (i) the defendant has no significant history of prior criminal activity, (ii) the capital felony was committed while the defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance, (iii) the victim was a participant in the defendant's conduct or consented to the act, (iv) at the time of the commission of the capital felony, the capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was significantly impaired, (v) the age of the defendant at the time of the commission of the capital offense, or (vi) even if § 19.2-264.3:1.1 is inapplicable as a bar to the death penalty, the subaverage intellectual functioning of the defendant.

C. The penalty of death shall not be imposed unless the Commonwealth shall prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a probability based upon evidence of the prior history of the defendant or of the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense of which he is accused that he would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing serious threat to society, or that his conduct in committing the offense was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman, in that it involved torture, depravity of mind or aggravated battery to the victim.

D. In the event the jury cannot agree as to the penalty, the court shall dismiss the jury, and impose a sentence of imprisonment for life.