Pennsylvania Has 90% Reversal Rate for Death Penalty Cases Completing Appeals

On September 24, Pennsylvania reached a new milestone with the 250th death-sentence reversal since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. The state has imposed approximately 412 death sentences since reinstatement. Only three prisoners were executed, and all three waived at least part of their appeals. There have been no executions in Pennsylvania for 15 years. Over 60% of all death sentences imposed in the state have been overturned by state or federal courts; 190 prisoners remain on death row, and many of those are likely to have their cases reversed, too. If the pool of sentences is restricted to those that have completed all of their ordinary appeals, the state reversal rate has been over 90%. Michelle Tharp was the latest person to have her sentence overturned. Pennsylvania has sent seven women to death row; all but one have had their cases reversed.

(Source: R. Dunham, Assistant Federal Defender, Harrisburg, PA; death sentence number from Bureau of Justice Statistics; posted by DPIC, October 6, 2014). See Arbitrariness. Read DPIC’s report, “Struck by Lightning” for more information on arbitrariness in the death penalty system. Also see a report on national reversal rates by Prof. James Liebman.