Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pennsylvania Supreme Court upholds Governor's death penalty reprieve

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Tom Wolf's decision to grant a reprieve to death-row inmate Terrance Williams, while declining to address the propriety of Wolf's moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania, reported The Legal Intelligencer.
All five justices of the state's high court agreed that Wolf had the authority to issue a reprieve in Williams' case. When Wolf announced the reprieve in February, he said he would grant a reprieve in each future scheduled execution while he awaits a report on the death penalty from a state task force.
"We find no limitation on the executive reprieve power relating to the duration of the reprieve, so long as it is temporary in nature and operates only for an interval of time," Justice Max Baer wrote for the court. "Additionally, we find no support for the proposition that the governor must provide a particular explanation for his reprieve for it to be constitutionally sound."
But Baer noted that the court was only addressing the constitutional validity of the Williams reprieve.
"Significantly, we further decline to address the propriety of Gov. Wolf's declaration in a press release that the issuance of a reprieve to Williams constitutes the first step in his executive policy of imposing a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania," he wrote. "Future challenges to reprieves granted by Gov. Wolf will have to await independent examination based upon our holdings herein."
Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams filed a petition seeking review of the decision using King's Bench jurisdiction. The justices granted his petition, but denied his request for an expedited review.
According to Baer's opinion, the prosecutors argued that the governor's reprieve power does not encompass the power to grant a reprieve for an unlimited duration of time and without a particular purpose. They also argued that a governor cannot declare a moratorium by calling it a reprieve.
The prosecutors said Wolf's moratorium violated Article IV, Section 2 of the state constitution, which says the governor "'shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.'"

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