ABA Study Finds PA Death Penalty Flaws
Posted Oct 9, 2007 10:48 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A study released by an ABA group says Pennsylvania’s death penalty system fails to ensure basic fairness and could result in the execution of an innocent person. The report (PDF) calls on the state to preserve DNA evidence, videotape homicide interrogations, and use best practices for police lineups, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The report also says the state fails to guarantee the appointment of two lawyers at all stages of a capital trial, according to an executive summary (PDF). Nor does the state provide funding for indigent defense, instead relying on counties to pick up the tab. The report noted the findings of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court committee that suggested the system is not “evenhanded” in its treatment of racial minorities. That committee found that the state is second only to Louisiana in the percentage of African-Americans on death row. “Pennsylvania has seen exonerations of six death row inmates since it reinstated the death penalty in 1974,” ABA President William H. Neukom of Seattle said in a press release. “If the citizens of the commonwealth are to trust their legal system to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent, it is critical to correct deficiencies. It is important to have a fair and accurate process, not just for the accused but also for the victims and for the public.” The study was conducted by five Philadelphia-area lawyers under the auspices of the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project. The team was chaired by Villanova University law professor Anne Bowen Poulin, a former prosecutor. ABA studies have also found flaws in the death penalty system in seven other states—Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee. The ABA does not support or oppose the death penalty, but it encourages a moratorium on executions if fairness cannot be assured. The ABA did not take a stand on whether a moratorium is warranted in Pennsylvania and its House of Delegates has not considered the Pennsylvania report.