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Does Pennsylvania Still Have the Death Penalty?

It was in the middle of November when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the death sentence against one of the men that was part of the Greensburg Six. The man was part of the group that had kidnapped, tortured, and killed a mentally disabled woman in 2010. He originally pleaded guilty to the original charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, conspiracy and kidnapping. However, his attorneys argued that the death penalty sentence was prejudiced and arbitrary. Still, the justices ruled unanimously to uphold the sentence.

The story has some wondering why the Supreme Court made the decision they did, as many thought Pennsylvania had abolished the death penalty. While the state does still use the death penalty in certain cases, the history behind the sentence is somewhat confusing.

The History of the Death Penalty in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has been sentencing people to the death penalty since the early 1600s. At the time, people were hung by the state until 1913, when the method changed to electrocution. It was in 1990 that the state changed the method of execution to lethal injection, which is the method currently used.

Before 1976, Pennsylvania was the third-highest state in the country to perform executions, and the state’s death row was the fourth-largest in the country for more than two decades. Since 1976, the state has only carried out three executions. Today, Pennsylvania has the fifth-largest death row among all states that allow the death penalty, but it has declined rapidly in the past two decades.

In early 2015, Governor Tom Wolf announced he was placing a moratorium on executions due to concerns surrounding innocence and racial bias. However, people convicted of federal charges or capital murder may still be sentenced with the death penalty.

Types of Death Penalty Cases in Pennsylvania

The crimes that make a murder case a death penalty case are some of the most serious. They include:

  • Killing a person that is in the third trimester of a pregnancy
  • Killing a minor under the age of 12
  • Killing a person in such a way that the very act creates a serious risk of death for another person
  • Killing a local or state law enforcement officer
  • Killing a peace officer, public servant, or fireman that was on duty at the time

Just as these crimes are extremely serious, so too is the death penalty sentence. Anyone that is potentially facing the death penalty should speak to a criminal defense lawyer that can help.

Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help with Your Case

The death penalty is the harshest sentence a court could hand down, but there are others that are quite serious, as well. If you or your loved one has been charged with any crime, contact our Allentown criminal defense lawyers at van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin today. We know innocent people are charged with crimes every day, and we also know how to use defenses effectively to give you the best chance of a favorable outcome. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.


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