Sunday, January 1, 2012

Pennsylvania Senate to examine death penalty

The Pennsylvania Senate adopted Senate Resolution 6 establishing a bipartisan task force and an advisory committee to conduct a study of capital punishment in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Justice Center for Research at Penn State, the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, and the Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission will collaborate on this study. In 1972, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared Pennsylvania’s capital sentencing procedure unconstitutional, based on the United States Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).

In 1978, the Pennsylvania General Assembly responded by reinstating capital punishment in compliance with Pennsylvania and United States Supreme Court rulings. Since 1978, over 350 people have been sentenced to death in Pennsylvania but only three people have been executed and each of the three people executed waived the right to appeal. There are more than 200 existing capital sentences.

"Questions are frequently raised regarding the costs, deterrent effect and appropriateness of capital punishment," Senator Stewart Greenleaf said in a statement issued by his office. "I believe that we need to answer these questions." The American Bar Association identified several areas in which Pennsylvania’s death penalty system falters in guaranteeing each capital defendant fairness and accuracy in all proceedings.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System determined that racial, ethnic and gender biases exist, and that those biases significantly affect the way parties, witnesses, litigants, lawyers, court employees, and potential jurors are treated. Post-conviction DNA testing has shown that there are wrongful convictions, even in capital cases.

The task force and advisory committee may hold public hearings as necessary to receive testimony about any of the subjects of study enumerated. The task force and advisory committee shall report their findings and recommendations to the Senate no later than two years after the date this resolution is adopted. "This will be a balanced study, taking into account all points of view including those of law enforcement and crime victims on whether the death sentence has a deterrent effect and contributes to the protection of the public," said Senator Greenleaf.

Read the Resolution:

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