The state of Pennsylvania should abolish the death penalty. The death penalty is immoral. No one has the right to take someone else’s life.
This is especially urgent in Pennsylvania right now, since the state’s death penalty system has been under review in the past year and found to be desperately wanting. Now, two new judicial reports and a recent death sentence in Philadelphia further bolster the case to abolish the system.
Last February, a report by a Philadelphia judge ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the amount the city has long paid court-appointed private lawyers in death cases is “grossly inadequate” and has increased “the risk of ineffective counsel.”
An earlier study by RAND similarly found that low pay and lack of support for court-appointed lawyers in Philadelphia were significant factors in inadequate legal representation. As a result, of the state’s capital convictions since 1976, 32 percent were reversed or sent back for new hearings because of errors by lawyers, according to an investigation by The Philadelphia Inquirer last October.
From The New York Times:
On Feb. 29, a Philadelphia jury sentenced Derrick White to death for murder — in part because his lawyers provided the kind of ineffective counsel that has drawn harsh criticism for decades in the city.
Barely 20 when arrested in 2010, Mr. White received a death sentence after his lawyers failed to take the most rudimentary steps for capital cases. They did not enter as evidence records about his background or hire a death penalty expert to help prepare the case. The closing argument about whether he deserved death or life without parole was rambling and all but pointless, lasting 15 minutes.
Pennsylvania has carried out only 3 executions since 1976, but 205 inmates are on death row. The White case underscores the state’s continuing failure to meet constitutional standards in capital cases.
Pennsylvania needs to stop its machinery of death now.
White is not alone. There are numerous arguments against the death penalty, but perhaps one tops all the others: the criminal justice system is not infallible. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 140 death-row inmates have been exonerated across the U.S. since 1973. Luckily, they were all freed before they were executed.
It is likely that others haven’t been so fortunate; there is ample reason to believe, for instance, that Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly burning his daughters to death in an arson fire, was innocent. When convicts are sentenced to prison for life, you can set them free if they’re later exonerated; that’s not an option after they’ve undergone lethal injection.
Across the United States, 16 states and the District of Columbia have eliminated the death penalty. Activists in the state of California have submitted 800,000 signatures to election authorities this month for a November ballot measure to end capital punishment in the Golden State.
This is a movement whose time has come.
For all these reasons, let’s put an end to capital punishment in Pennsylvania.
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