Wednesday, 10 October 2007

A major report on the death penalty in Pennsylvania

A major report on the death penalty in Pennsylvania

[Update: media coverage now includes the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Study: Pa. death penalty system greatly flawed and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Study finds major flaws in Pa. death penalty cases]

The American Bar Association’s Pennsylvania Death Penalty Assessment Report was released on the internet this morning with a press conference to follow around 10:30 or so. A quick read through the report reveals an amazingly constructive critique of the problems with Pennsylvania’s death penalty practice, as well as suggestions for judicial and legislative changes that need to be made before the Keystone state’s death chamber resumes activity. The report is perhaps the most well written of the recent ABA reports on the state of the death penalty and is written broadly enough to be relevant well beyond the bounds of the nation’s fourth largest, and perhaps most dysfunctional, death row.

I found notable in the report, and I am still working through it, the group who undertook the study. The group included a well respected trial court judge, an appellate prosecutor who has had to protect hard won death sentences for the Commonwealth, as well as an assortment of high profile litigators and professors. In short, this isn’t the “sandals & candles” crowd throwing stones, but a lawyerly tome respectfully requesting alterations to be made to Pennsylvania’s death penalty before inalterable errors are made.

The report is best summed up in the report itself

Despite the best efforts of the many principled and thoughtful actors who play roles in the criminal justice process in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, our research establishes that, at this point in time, Pennsylvania cannot ensure that fairness and accuracy are the hallmark of every case in which the death penalty is sought or imposed. Basic notions of fairness require that all participants in the criminal justice system ensure that the ultimate penalty of death is reserved for only the very worst offenses and defendants.

The materials from that ABA team includes:

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