"Virginia AG defends use of solitary on death row," is the AP report, via the Virginian Pilot.
A federal judge's order banning Virginia from automatically placing death-row inmates in solitary confinement "would do away with death row as it is currently operated" in Virginia and elsewhere, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring's office argued in court papers.
Herring's office filed papers Monday with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, seeking to overturn the decision of a federal judge who ruled that automatically banishing death-row inmates to solitary confinement violates their constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria ruled last year that the practice of solitary confinement is so onerous that the Department of Corrections must justify its use for each inmate on death row. Failing to do so violates their due process rights, she said in her ruling.
As it stands now, the state's eight death-row inmates are automatically placed in solitary.
In the Virginia case, Brinkema took up the issue after inmate Alfredo Prieto — who was sent to death row in 2008 for the 1988 murder of two George Washington University students — sued over the conditions of his confinement. Brinkema tossed out Prieto's self-filed complaint that solitary confinement amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, but she appointed lawyers to help him with his argument that solitary confinement as administered by Virginia infringes his constitutional due process rights.
Jon Sheldon, a lawyer who has represented several capital murder defendants in Virginia, said Brinkema's ruling is significant.
"Finally a judge has said enough is enough, and we're not going to defer to the executive branch in its 'No amount of punishment is enough' approach," Sheldon said.
In January, Brinkema denied the state's request to temporarily delay her ruling while the state appeals. But corrections officials have done nothing of significance to implement the changes demanded by Brinkema, Sheldon said.