Pennsylvania has not executed anyone in almost 20 years, and the state has put a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015. Still, the law remains on the books.
Recently, District Attorney Larry Krasner formally asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to rule that the death penalty violates the state constitution. His brief came in response to a petition by public defenders who represent two death row inmates.
Krasner's office argued that the application of the death penalty has been arbitrary and racially biased. The brief cited a study that found evidence of bias in juries, which were more likely to impose the death penalty on a defendant who had killed a white person than on defendants who had killed a minority.
Pennsylvania lawmakers recently introduced bipartisan legislation to erase the death penalty from the books. Their measure may come up for a vote this fall.
With the advent of DNA testing and other new technologies, many prisoners all over the nation have been exonerated after being convicted and sentenced to death. One Pennsylvania man told news reporters he had been on death row for 25 years before new evidence proved he did not commit the crime.
It appears there is momentum for ending the death penalty in Pennsylvania, but it is still a factor in many homicide cases. Currently, there are still 45 people on Pennsylvania's death row. Some of them have been on death row for decades.
These are difficult cases in many ways, but everyone deserves a defense. The role of a criminal defense lawyer is to defend their clients' rights and protect their futures as much as possible.