Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Pa. death penalty under fire

Article Launched: 10/09/2007 10:24:08 AM EDT

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Pennsylvania needs to make drastic changes to its death penalty system, including preserving biological evidence until an inmate is released or executed, a team of prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges recommends in a study released Tuesday.

The report, which is part of a death penalty project run by the American Bar Association, found Pennsylvania's application of the death penalty highly inconsistent. It warns that people convicted of committing murders under similar circumstances often get very different sentences, with some facing execution and others decades behind bars.

The state, which has had six death row inmates exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974, needs widespread policy reforms to overcome what the ABA called "substantial shortcomings."

Among other things, the team found that there are racial disparities in the state's capital sentencing system, with blacks being targeted for execution more often than whites.
The assessment team that reviewed Pennsylvania's death penalty system found that the state is in full compliance with only seven of the 93 protocols the ABA drafted to ensure that capital punishment is applied fairly to convicted murderers.

The group, chaired by Villanova law professor and former federal prosecutor Anne Bowen Poulin, issued nine broad recommendations in its report aimed at ensuring that capital punishment is imposed consistently.

Those recommendations include banning the execution of offenders with severe mental illness and requiring law enforcement to record video or audio of all interrogations. The team also said the state should adopt tougher attorney qualifications and monitoring procedures for attorneys in capital cases.

The report also found that the state fails to protect defendants in capital cases against shoddy defense attorneys, provides defense attorneys inadequate access to experts and investigators, and has jury instructions so confusing that nearly all capital jurors failed to understand at least some of them.

The state had 228 people on death row as of Oct. 1. Pennsylvania has executed three people since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, the last in 1999.
Pennsylvania is the eighth and final state to be assessed by the ABA's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project, following Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Virginia. Unlike several other state reports, the Pennsylvania panel did not make a recommendation on whether to enact a death penalty moratorium until reforms were made.

The report and its recommendations have not been presented to the ABA's House of Delegates and do not constitute ABA policy. The report itself does not specifically call for a moratorium on executions, though the ABA has urged one until fairness and due process can be guaranteed.
In 2003, a committee appointed by the state Supreme Court recommended that Pennsylvania stop executing criminals until it can study the impact of race in death penalty sentences, but the idea didn't get much political support.

Other team members were Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Frank Hazel, Montgomery County prosecutor Mary Ann MacNeil Killinger, Philadelphia attorney Gregory P. Miller and civil rights lawyer and Penn law professor David Rudovsky.
On the Net:
Pennsylvania report: http://www.abavideonews.org/ABA340/

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