Starting off, as I try to do every week, we see that Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania has suspended the use of the death penalty in his state. Quoting him,
If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is going to take the irrevocable step of executing a human being, its capital sentencing system must be infallible. Pennsylvania’s system is riddled with flaws, making it error prone, expensive, and anything but infallible.In addition to the costs involved in maintaining the death penalty system, which Wolf estimated at $300 million a year, the governor noted discrepancies in the racial makeup of death row inmates, the result, although the governor did not say this directly, of a racially-biased system. As one example of many of that bias, while whites make up about half of murder victims nationally, of those cases where the death penalty has been imposed since its return, 77% involved white victims. That is, you are much more likely to be sentenced to death for killing a white than for killing a non-white.
More strikingly, there have been 324 persons executed in cases involving interracial murders. Over 90% of them involved a black killing a white; less than 10% - 31 of 324, to be exact - involved a white killing a black.
The failures of the system go well beyond that, affecting justice even where racial bias does not enter into it. For example, speaking of Pennsylvania, a state Death Penalty Assessment Team reported a systemic failure to protect innocent people from lawyers who don’t provide strong defenses. It's a failure not limited to Pennsylvania, which is one of the reasons why nationally the numbers of people who are exonerated after being convicted, not just where reasonable doubt has been created but positively exonerated - including at least 111 who had been sentenced to death before being freed - keeps growing.
Wolf's moratorium will last until the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment submits guidance on the use of capital punishment, which is supposed to come in the next couple of months. Which means that, unhappily, when that guidance is submitted and depending on what it is, the death penalty could return to Pennsylvania - but at least for now, the grim reaper will have to twiddle his thumbs. And that's good news.
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