West Virginia Capital Punishment Laws

Capital punishment is a controversial topic in criminal law today. Many victims’ rights advocates claim that justice for murder victim’s families requires the death penalty to allow the families to find closure. On the other hand, many anti-death penalty activists believe the expense of death row and appeals and the racial disparity in who is sentenced to death don’t justify the continued use of such a barbaric practice.

No matter where you stand, it’s important to know what your state law is on such a hot topic.

West Virginia Abolished Capital Punishment in 1965

West Virginia doesn’t have the death penalty. Before 1899, executions were public and carried out by each county. Between 1899 and 1959, 94 men were executed by the state of West Virginia. All of the executions before 1950 were by hanging. Then briefly between 1951 and 1959 the electric chair was used.

In 1965, Democrats Jesse Barker of Kanawha County and Robert Holliday of Fayette County introduced House Bill 517 to repeal the death penalty. The bill passed both West Virginia legislative houses and the Governor Hulett Smith signed the bill into law.

West Virginia Capital Punishment Statute

The chart below details the capital punishment statute or law in West Virginia.

Code Section West Virginia Code Section 61-11-2: Capital Punishment Abolished
Is Capital Punishment Allowed? No, West Virginia abolished the death penalty in 1965.

Juveniles and the Death Penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of offenders who were under 18 years old when the crime occurred in 2005. Then in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional for those who were juveniles at the time of the crime. Currently only countries such as China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen have laws allowing the execution of minors.

Getting Legal Help

Even with the death penalty prohibited in West Virginia, serious crimes can result in life imprisonment. If you or a loved one are facing a charge for any serious crime, such as homicide, you should immediately speak to an experienced local criminal defense lawyer. If you can’t afford an attorney, ask the court to assign you a public defender.

Note: State laws change all the time. Please contact a knowledgeable attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify any state criminal laws you are researching.

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