Gov. Warner: Critics Claim He Moved Left on Crime Issues

VA Governor Mark Warner leaves office today. Some are criticizing his attempts to make our criminal justice system a fairer place. They are off-base. He is not a "soft on crime" politician.

But in four years as governor, Mr. Warner has incrementally and with little fanfare established groundbreaking policies on the use of DNA testing to confirm, or challenge, criminal convictions, many of them in death penalty cases. Last week, he became the first governor to order a DNA test involving a man who had already been executed.

The actions of Mr. Warner, who leaves office on Saturday, have established new middle ground in the polarized world of death penalty politics. Unlike former Gov. George Ryan of Illinois, who ordered a moratorium on executions in 2003, Mr. Warner has not called for halting executions, and he still supports capital punishment. His goal, he has said, has not been to undermine the system but to make sure it works.

His detractors, like Michael Paranzino, president of Throw Away the Key, a pro-death group, portray Gov. Warner as moving left on crime to court Iowa and New Hampshire voters for a 2008 presidential bid.

Much as I would love for that to be true, it's just downright silly. Can anyone name a politician who ran for high national office on a liberal crime platform? These days, it's all about the victims, locking prisoners up for ever longer stretches, reducing programs that rehabilitate, removing student aid and pell grants and keeping felons who have served their time from voting.

Gov. Warner is no liberal. He followed his conscience and sought justice for those society considers the lowest among us. He sought the truth. America needs more Governors like him.

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    Governor Warner's lasting legacy as he leaves office is his efforts o increase the accuracy of our criminal justice system. This isn't a left or right wing issue, this is an American issue. If it is left wing to support the idea that only the factually should be incarcerated or executed than the Founding Fathers must have been commies. In effect, Warner has ordered that whenever the Commonwealth of Virginia has DNA evidence it must test it in criminal cases. While this isn't an issue in most current cases it is an issue in older cases. I can't imagine a victim who would think their perpetrator shouldn't go to jail but rather a man should be punished for something he didn't do. Whether Governor Warner's simple idea spreads beyond Virginia remains to be seen, however, if the Congress was truly worried about wrongful conviction and speeding post-conviction along, it might be time to order, like Virginia, DNA in every case where biological evidence exists. The parties may not always want to know DNA results, but for the sake of truth and accuracy in the criminal justice system the public has a right to know.