The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office filed a King's Bench action before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court against Governor Tom Wolf for imposing a moratorium on executions by vowing to exercise his constitutional authority to grant reprieves.
District Attorney Seth Williams argued that Governor Wolf’s reprieve for Terry Williams was inconsistent with the historical use of the constitutional power because the reprieve did not have a specific end date and was not issued to permit Mr. Williams to pursue relief in a court proceeding.
According to a press release, Terry Williams' attorneys filed a brief this week, urging the Supreme Court to “decline the invitation to judicial activism” stating that “[i]n this Court’s nearly 300-year existence, it has never interfered with a reprieve. And the historical use of reprieves reflects a unilateral, discretionary executive power.”
Attorneys for Terry Williams suggest, “Pennsylvania law and history are clear regarding the power of reprieves by a Governor: reprieves are unilateral, made at the Governor’s discretion, and are limited in no way. They don’t require a time limit, a stated reason or the input of any other branches of government.”
The brief filed presents a detailed account of numerous reprieves issued since 1718, including:
- Governor Corbett issued an indefinite reprieve in 2014 due to the nationwide unavailability of lethal injection drugs;
- Governor Lawrence announced in 1961 that he would issue reprieves to establish a moratorium on executions while a legislative committee studied capital punishment;
- Governor Porter issued a reprieve in 1841 to postpone an execution while the legislature considered abolishing the death penalty;
- Numerous examples where Pennsylvania governors have invoked their unilateral reprieve power to postpone executions – without providing a reason and without setting an end-date – between 1718 and the 20th century;
- Numerous examples where governors in other states have used their reprieve power to establish moratoria on executions or to permit problems with the death penalty system to be studied.
Reprieves dating back hundreds of years are documented, including an indefinite reprieve to Daniel
Hoffman issued in 1787 when Benjamin Franklin was the President of Pennsylvania.
To read the brief CLICK HERE