Despite having the fourth-highest death row population in the country, Pennsylvania isn’t terribly good at carrying out the ultimate penalty. A third of the 184 inmates now on death row there received their sentences more than two decades ago, and at least 24 have died of natural causes before their sentences could be carried out.
Legal experts, including the American Bar Association, blame the poor state of inmate representation in capital cases.
For years there were no pre-qualifications for an attorney to handle capital cases in the commonwealth. And Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that provides no post-conviction financial support for defense appeals, meaning defendants are typically required to turn to county services and the aid of less-than-able court-appointed attorneys. As a result, cases are often wildly mismanaged. Nearly as many death convictions are overturned in Pennsylvania as are handed down each year, the majority of them due to ineffective assistance of counsel.
Most Pennsylvanians now support a moratorium on capital punishment until its efficacy can be determined. Opponents of the death penalty see the state’s drug problem as a sign that that time has come.
“The mere fact that it’s so difficult to score these drugs spotlights how isolated we are from most of civilized society in our obsession with executing people,” said Kathleen Lucas, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “I doubt that any governor would want his or her legacy to be a torture session like those we’ve had recently in states like Oklahoma and Arizona.”
Source: The Daily Beast, Christopher Moraff, Sept. 18, 2014