Statements of Support for Governor Wolf’s Moratorium on the Death Penalty in Pennsylvania
February 13, 2015
Harrisburg, PA – Today, the Honorable Timothy K. Lewis, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, and the Honorable Robert J. Cindrich released the following statements in support for Governor Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.
Statement of the Honorable Timothy K. Lewis, former United States Court of Appeals Judge for the Third Circuit
“In December 2014, I was contacted by then Governor-elect Wolf’s transition team and asked to prepare an objective legal analysis of a Pennsylvania governor’s constitutional authority to impose a moratorium on the death penalty pending a thorough review of its administration. In January 2015, I submitted my analysis to the Governor-elect.
“I concluded that Pennsylvania law requires the governor to issue execution warrants; that the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article IV, Section 9(a), gives the governor exclusive authority and wide discretion to grant reprieves; that this reprieve power is the only constitutional basis for instituting a moratorium; that the governor could not grant either standing or future reprieves; and that, accordingly, a Pennsylvania governor may implement a moratorium only by first issuing execution warrants and then granting reprieves.
“In summary, I concluded that if a governor believed it would be in the interests of the Commonwealth to issue a moratorium by granting reprieves for the purpose of studying the fairness and effectiveness of the administration of the death penalty, this would be a proper exercise of his or her authority under the Pennsylvania Constitution.
“This was my objective legal analysis. It was not informed in any way by my own views. But as a personal matter, I fully support Governor Wolf’s announcement today.
“I do so as a former prosecutor who believes in the most severe punishment for the most heinous offenses. I do so as a former judge who presided over an execution and saw first-hand the many serious problems – institutional, economic, and human – with the enforcement of the death penalty. And I do so as a Pennsylvania citizen acutely aware that our resources should no longer be wasted on a system so broken.
“At a minimum, we must take a step back to examine the effectiveness of a system fraught with racial disparity, constant reversals, and the infinite warehousing of prisoners who await a punishment that hasn’t been imposed in our State in 15 years – some of whom we know, based on exonerations here and elsewhere, may well be innocent.
“A civilized society, effective law enforcement and the honor of our Commonwealth require no less.”
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“Today Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced a reprieve for all Pennsylvania death row occupants until current commonwealth studies of the death penalty are complete and he has had time to study the data.
“I’m grateful to Governor Wolf for choosing to take a deeper look into these studies and I pray we can find a better way to punish those who are guilty of these crimes.
“Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. They bear a terrible burden of grief and they rightly demand justice. But killing the guilty does not honor the dead nor does it ennoble the living. When we take a guilty person’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture and we demean our own dignity in the process.”
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“I am a former assistant public defender, assistant district attorney, United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania and a federal district judge. I have both prosecuted and defended death penalty cases as a public official and a private attorney.
“He is wise to await the outcome of the deliberations of Sen. Greenleaf’s Committee which has been conducting a serious and in depth study of death penalty in Pennsylvania for some years now before allowing even one more person to be executed. While that study may provide us with more definitive information to inform future decisions, there is clearly enough evidence now to warrant his action. In Pennsylvania, there is evidence of extreme racial disparity in the imposition of the death sentence. Though African Americans comprise just 11% of the population, they comprise two thirds of the people on death row. The Innocence Project has demonstrated that numerous people, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have both been wrongfully sentenced to die and even wrongfully executed. Over 60% of all of the death sentences imposed in Pennsylvania since 1978 and today have been reversed by state or federal courts, an unacceptably high degree of error.
“The Governor is right because the death of a person is not something that can be undone. He is right because moral issues aside, the cost to the public of pursing the execution of citizens is far too high as weighed against any perceived public benefit. He is right because there is no empirical evidence demonstrating that the death penalty has any discernible effect on the incidence of murder or crimes of violence and in fact, there is evidence to the contrary.
MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Sheridan – 717.783.1116
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