July 31, 2018

Pennsylvania Capital Punishment

ABA President Hilarie Bass this month applauded the release of Capital Punishment in Pennsylvania, a report of the Task Force and Advisory Committee of the Joint State Government Commission. Bass wrote to members of the Pennsylvania State Senate on July 3 that the commission’s bipartisan report builds upon and validates the work of prior studies, including the ABA’s 2007 Pennsylvania Death Penalty Assessment Report that found systemic deficiencies in numerous critical areas and concluded that “Pennsylvania cannot ensure that fairness and accuracy are the hallmarks of every case in which the death penalty is sought or imposed.” The Pennsylvania report, Bass said, “unfortunately confirms that the issues identified by the ABA in 2007 have persisted over the past 11 years” and continue to jeopardize the fair administration of justice in capital cases in the state. One of the major areas where the report found serious deficiencies is the state’s county-by-county indigent defense system, which suffers from a lack of statewide oversight to ensure that appointed counsel meet professional standards. Because of this lack of oversight, 150 death sentences in Pennsylvania have been overturned due to ineffective assistance of counsel. Bass added that effective defense counsel could prevent and address other problems identified in the report, including racial bias and execution of the intellectually disabled or severely mentally ill. The association supports the Pennsylvania report’s recommendation for a state-funded capital defender office, which is consistent with the ABA’s 2007 recommendations and the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment & Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases.  Bass urged the state senators to maintain – as recommended by the ABA in 2007 − a moratorium on executions until due process protections are in place.

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