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Capital punishment in Pennsylvania

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.


Prior to 1913, hanging was the common method of execution.[1] In 1834, Pennsylvania became the first state in the union to eradicate public hangings. For the following decades, each county throughout the state was in charge of carrying out private hangings within their jails.[2] 1915 saw the first use of the electric chair, two years after it was approved by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1913. The delay was due to the time needed to finish the Western Penitentiary in Centre County, now the State Correctional Institution – Rockview. From 1915 to 1962, 350 people were executed by electric chair. Most of these defendants were men, but two of them were women.[2]

A total of 1,043 people have been executed in Pennsylvania since 1693.[3] As of 2002 this was the 3rd highest of any other state or commonwealth in the Union, after New York (1,130) and Virginia (1,361).[4]

Since 1978, there have been nearly 25,000 homicides throughout the state of Pennsylvania, where 408 of these homicides ended in defendants being put on death row which amounts to 1.6 death sentences to every 100 homicides.[5]

The former Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, signed a bill in 1990 that changed the method of execution from electrocution to lethal injection.[2]

In February 2015, Governor Tom Wolf, announced a moratorium on the death penalty, suspending plans to execute Terrance Williams for a 1984 robbery and fatal tire-iron beating of another man in Philadelphia. Wolf called the current system error-prone and expensive, and announced plans to continue to issue reprieves while a legislative committee prepares a report about the state's use of capital punishment.[6]

Legal process

The death penalty is only applied when a defendant is guilty of first degree murder. A separate hearing must take place for this defendant to be put on death row. If one of the ten aggravating circumstances listed in Pennsylvania law and none of the eight mitigating factors are found to be involved in the case, the verdict is death for the defendant.[2]

When the prosecution seeks the death penalty, the sentence is decided by the jury and must be unanimous.

In case of a hung jury during the penalty phase of the trial, a life sentence is issued, even if a single juror opposed death.[7]

A death sentence has to be affirmed by the state Supreme Court. If it is affirmed, the governor of the state must sign off on the death sentence. This is a signed document known as the 'Governor's Warrant'.[8]

State constitutional provisions require a unanimous vote of the Pardons Board to permanently change any life or death sentence before the governor can commute it.[6]

Recent Changes

The state of Pennsylvania spends about $46 million annually on the death penalty to maintain the prisoners housed on death row, as well as carrying out any executions. The average price to house and take care of a death row inmate per year is about $42,000.[9] With concerns over the cost of the death penalty growing, Governor Wolf has indicated his support for a cost-benefit analysis to examine what the state gets from carrying out death sentences versus the cost to the state.

Governor Wolf presented a moratorium on the death penalty in the state. This means that for the time being, the act of a death sentence is prohibited.[10] Wolf has stated, "In no way does this mean sympathy for those guilty on death row." [10]

Wolf believes there are substantial problems with the death penalty, as followed:

  • Claims innocent lives
  • Not a deterrent to crime
  • Racially biased
  • Costs a lot of money
  • Disregards mental illness in the US[11]

Capital crimes

First-degree murder can be punished by death in Pennsylvania if it involves one of the following aggravating factors:[12]

  1. The victim was a firefighter, peace officer, public servant concerned in official detention, judge of any court in the unified judicial system, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, a deputy attorney general, district attorney, assistant district attorney, member of the General Assembly, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Auditor General, State Treasurer, State law enforcement official, local law enforcement official, Federal law enforcement official or person employed to assist or assisting any law enforcement official in the performance of his duties, who was killed in the performance of his duties or as a result of his official position.
  2. The defendant paid or was paid by another person or had contracted to pay or be paid by another person or had conspired to pay or be paid by another person for the killing of the victim.
  3. The victim was being held by the defendant for ransom or reward, or as a shield or hostage.
  4. The death of the victim occurred while defendant was engaged in the hijacking of an aircraft.
  5. The victim was a prosecution witness to a murder or other felony committed by the defendant and was killed for the purpose of preventing his testimony against the defendant in any grand jury or criminal proceeding involving such offenses.
  6. The defendant committed a killing while in the perpetration of a felony.
  7. In the commission of the offense the defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person in addition to the victim of the offense.
  8. The offense was committed by means of torture.
  9. The defendant has a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence to the person.
  10. The defendant has been convicted of another Federal or State offense, committed either before or at the time of the offense at issue, for which a sentence of life imprisonment or death was imposable or the defendant was undergoing a sentence of life imprisonment for any reason at the time of the commission of the offense.
  11. The defendant has been convicted of another murder committed in any jurisdiction and committed either before or at the time of the offense at issue.
  12. The defendant has been convicted of voluntary manslaughter, or a substantially equivalent crime in any other jurisdiction, committed either before or at the time of the offense at issue.
  13. The defendant committed the killing or was an accomplice in the killing, while in the perpetration of a drug-related felony.
  14. At the time of the killing, the victim was or had been involved, associated or in competition with the defendant in the sale, manufacture, distribution or delivery of any controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance, and the defendant committed the killing or was an accomplice to the killing, and the killing resulted from or was related to that association, involvement or competition to promote the defendant's activities in selling, manufacturing, distributing or delivering controlled substances or counterfeit controlled substances.
  15. At the time of the killing, the victim was or had been a nongovernmental informant or had otherwise provided any investigative, law enforcement or police agency with information concerning criminal activity and the defendant committed the killing or was an accomplice to the killing, and the killing was in retaliation for the victim's activities as a nongovernmental informant or in providing information concerning criminal activity to an investigative, law enforcement or police agency.
  16. The victim was a child under 12 years of age.
  17. At the time of the killing, the victim was in her third trimester of pregnancy or the defendant had knowledge of the victim's pregnancy.
  18. At the time of the killing the defendant was subject to a court order restricting in any way the defendant's behavior toward the victim or any other order of a court of common pleas or of the minor judiciary designed in whole or in part to protect the victim from the defendant.

Death row

The execution chamber of the State of Pennsylvania is on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections State Correctional Institution – Rockview. Most male death row inmates are housed in State Correctional Institution – Greene,[13] while some are housed at State Correctional Institution – Phoenix.[14] As of 2015 80% of all Pennsylvania death row inmates were held at Greene.[13] Female death row inmates are housed in State Correctional Institution – Muncy.[15] Before its closure some male death row inmates were housed at SCI Graterford.[13]

As of 2015, 183 people were on Pennsylvania's death row.[16] This number has gone down to 149 as of June, 2018.[17] All of these inmates are male.[2]

74% of inmates in Pennsylvania who are on death row have been on it for more than 10 years.[18] Some inmates who were facing death row have received re-trials or different sentencing strategies due to Governor Wolf's moratorium.[19]

Pennsylvania has only executed three inmates since 1976 and the most recent execution was carried out in 1999. This makes the state of Pennsylvania one of the least active states involving the death penalty. Even so, Pennsylvania is one of the states with the highest number of housed death row inmates.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Press Office (September 2012). "Information on the Execution Process": 1. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d e "Death Penalty". Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  3. ^ Juan Ignacio Blanco. "Executions in Pennsylvania - 1693-1800 - DeathPenaltyUSA, the database of executions in the United States". Retrieved 2016-07-21.
  4. ^ "US Executions from 1608-2002". 2011-01-07. Retrieved 2016-07-21.
  5. ^ Brambila, N. C. (2016, June 20). Executing Justice: The discretionary nature of the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Reading Eagle (PA).
  6. ^ a b Pennsylvania DAs take aim at Wolf's death penalty moratorium WTAE. Retrieved 21 January 2016.
  7. ^ "Section 9711 - Sentencing procedure for murder of the first degree". Retrieved June 22, 2016.
  8. ^ "Pennsylvania Death Penalty - Statistics and History". TripSavvy. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  9. ^ "Death Penalty 101: Why it's (almost) impossible to execute someone in Pennsylvania, and what's next". Billy Penn. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  10. ^ a b "Pennsylvania Governor Announces Moratorium on Executions | Death Penalty Information Center". Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  11. ^ "Death Penalty Facts – Amnesty International USA". Amnesty International USA. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  12. ^ Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 9711
  13. ^ a b c Murphy, Jan. "Q&A on the death penalty in Pa.: How does someone get put to death, more " (Archive). January 5, 2015. Retrieved on February 1, 2016.
  14. ^ "Persons Sentenced to Execution in Pennsylvania as of August 1, 2018." Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Retrieved on September 26, 2018.
  15. ^ "Craigslist killer Miranda Barbour is one of 170 lifers at Muncy state prison" (Archive) October 30, 2014. Retrieved on February 14, 2016.
  16. ^ "Facts about the Death Penalty" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-21.
  17. ^ Scolforo, Mark. "Study recommends changes to Pa. death penalty amid Gov. Wolf moratorium". The Morning Call. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  19. ^ PR, N. (2015, December 21). Pennsylvania Governor Wolf Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on Death Penalty Cases. PR Newswire US.
  20. ^ Berman, Mark (2015-02-13). "Pennsylvania's governor suspends the death penalty". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-12-04.

External links

This page was last edited on 11 August 2019, at 09:48
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