A bill to repeal the death penalty in Pennsylvania has passed a committee in the commonwealth’s House of Representatives. The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee voted 15-10 in favor of HB 999 on October 31, 2023. That vote is the first step toward abolishing the death penalty in Pennsylvania, which has had a formal moratorium on executions since 2015 and has not executed anyone since 1999.

Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Rabb (D – Philadelphia) provided several reasons for repeal, including the 11 death row exonerations from Pennsylvania, racial discrimination in the application of the death penalty, and the high cost of capital cases. On the issue of deterrence, he said, “If you are tough on crime, there is zero evidence that the death penalty has any deterrent effect, or that anyone intent on committing the most unspeakable atrocities will review Pennsylvania’s crime code to determine what could happen to them if they get caught.”

Rep. Paul Schemel (R – Franklin), the one Republican member of the committee who joined all 14 Democrats in voting for the bill, said, “Here in Pennsylvania and in the United States where we can safely keep someone imprisoned where they are not going to do harm to anyone else, we should fall on the side of life.” The committee’s Minority Chairman, Rep. Rob Kauffman (R – Franklin), did not vote for the bill, but indicated he has an open mind on the issue. “While I’m not at the point of supporting this legislation today, I do think this is something worth study, worth further conversation, looking at what this means to the criminal justice system,” he said.

The committee also approved HB 751, which would raise the evidentiary requirement for the imposition of a death sentence. Jurors must currently find that aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors by a preponderance of evidence. The bill would change that to require a finding beyond a reasonable doubt. Rep. Tim Bonner (R – Mercer) said he sponsored the bill because the current instructions are confusing. 


Robert Swift, Pa. House pan­el votes to abol­ish death penal­ty, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 31, 2023; Zach Hoopes, Pa. House com­mit­tee advances bills to restrict and repeal death penal­ty, PennLive​.com, October 312023.