The death penalty is not common in Pennsylvania, nor do Pennsylvania residents want it to be. One poll of Pennsylvanians in 2015 found that 54% support a life sentence, not capital punishment, as the preferred penalty for murder. The state has not carried out an execution since 1999.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group opposed to capital punishment, Pennsylvania courts have imposed death sentences, on average, a little less than twice a year over the past five years. This represents a significant drop from where the numbers were not all that long ago. Statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections show that the average was nearly 16 death sentences per year in 1989-1993.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania prosecutors are increasingly unlikely to seek the death penalty in their murder cases. One study found that in 2004, Pennsylvania prosecutors sought the death penalty in nearly 40% of their murder cases, but that percentage had dropped to just over 12% by 2017.
Still, capital punishment remains on the law books in the state and dozens of prisoners wait on Pennsylvania’s death row.
The death penalty remains a politically loaded issue, and these cases are legally difficult. However, skilled criminal defense attorneys can help defend the rights of people who are facing capital charges at trial and beyond. Nearly 200 death sentences and capital convictions have been overturned in Pennsylvania over the past 20 years.
Even with the death penalty declining, the sentences that go with a conviction on homicide charges are severe. Pennsylvanians facing the possibility of homicide charges need help from an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend their rights and protect their future.