Although Pennsylvania ranks high among states that impose death sentences, it ranks extremely low in actually carrying them out. There are currently 208 men and women on death row for an offense such as murder in the first degree, but no one has actually been executed since 1999. A whopping total of three people have been executed since death row was reinstated back in 1976.

Additionally, of the 391 capital convictions since 1976, at least 125 have been reversed. Most of these reversals have been as a result of an appeal and the sentences were reduced to life in prison. There were only a total of six complete exoneration’s.

Major blame in the amount of capital convictions has been placed on the quality of legal representation for poorer defendants. Overworked and underpaid public defenders are more likely to lose to a prosecutor who is pushing for a death penalty sentence and has less of a caseload but gets paid more in capital cases. However, because an inmate’s defense was underfunded and inadequate, many times they are granted new trials altogether that often lead to the lesser sentences.

Usually, once an inmate on death row exhausts their appeals and the governor signs the death warrant, they are executed. The reasoning behind the lack of actual executions has been focused on the appeal process and the refusal of liberal federal circuit court judges to sign off on death warrants to proceed with an execution.

There is a push to either fix or do away with the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Many in the state’s legal field feel that the lengthy time on death row is costing the state too much money and that it isn’t right for individuals to spend up to 30 years waiting to be put to death.

If an individual has been sentenced to death in a capital case in Pennsylvania, it is their right to file for an appeal, no matter what role politics may play in the judicial system. An experienced criminal defense attorney in West Chester will fight through the red tape to get an appeal heard and pushed through. Many innocent individuals are put to death each year because of faulty forensics, unreliable witnesses and inadequate legal representation. Filing for an appeal may potentially result in a new trial, which could produce a more favorable outcome.

Article Author

Michael J. Skinner, the founder of Skinner Law Firm LLC, is a former prosecutor with the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

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