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Pennsylvania Still Has the Death Penalty, While Other States Continue to Move Away From It

Pennsylvania had a big year of criminal justice reforms in 2019. But so far, one change that has not gotten any traction (or even much discussion at all) is the potential to move away from the death penalty, even as other states around the nation continue to abandon it.

Two thirds of states in the nation have now either abolished the death penalty altogether, or at the very least have not executed any prisoners in at least a decade. For Pennsylvania, it has now been more than two decades, and there have been just three executions in the last 50 years.

Prosecutors still seeking the death penalty

Governor Tom Wolf implemented a stay on death penalty executions upon taking office in 2015, and that moratorium remains in effect. However, despite this, prosecutors continue to pursue capital convictions. In addition, the Department of Corrections still authorizes execution warrants, despite knowing they will almost certainly never be carried out.

There are currently 133 people on death row in Pennsylvania across three prisons. None have been executed, and it is looking unlikely that any of them actually will be.

Pennsylvania already ended mandatory solitary confinement for death row inmates, and has started to explore other types of death row reforms, which would include allowing inmates to spend more time outdoors, and give them more access to religious services and showers.

State courts in Pennsylvania overturned 170 death row prisoners’ convictions or death sentences in state or federal post-conviction proceedings, and reversed another 100 death sentences on appeal. In fact, more than 97 percent of death row inmates in the state have been resentenced to life or less, or even been acquitted.

Ultimately, critics say the state’s death penalty system is broken and costly, and either needs massive reform or abolishment altogether.

For more information about changes to criminal law interpretation in Pennsylvania, contact experienced Reading, PA criminal defense lawyer David R. Eshelman.


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