Death Penalty

Defense Attorneys in Death Penalty Cases in Philadelphia File Court Challenge to Low Pay

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Arguing that the state of Pennsylvania should either pay private defense attorneys adequately for taking on court-appointed capital cases or abolish the death penalty, a group of lawyers has filed suit in Philadelphia.

Led by Marc Bookman, the group of lawyers says in its Common Pleas Court filing that Philadelphia County “pays its court-appointed attorneys less to prepare a capital case than any remotely comparable jurisdiction in the country,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The article says private lawyers are paid $1,333 pretrial and $2,000 at trial. A second lawyer gets an additional $1,700.

Meanwhile, the filing contends, Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s office pursues capital cases more frequently than any other jurisdiction, and the county has the highest reversal rate in the country of capital cases challenged over the effectiveness of defense counsel.

“These facts are inextricably linked and result in the following scenario,” the motion states: “The Commonwealth routinely and casually seeks the death penalty, pays virtually nothing for the representation of the accused, then suffers the consequences through reversal after reversal.”

Apparently caught by surprise by the filing, which was made as part of status hearings in four cases in which Bookman’s firm currently represents capital defendants, Judge Benjamin Lerner said he wasn’t sure he has jurisdiction to decide the attorney-pay issue. A former chief of the Philadelphia’s public defenders office who now handles pretrial homicide motions, he has scheduled an April 27 hearing to discuss with the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s office how to proceed.

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