Pennsylvania's Costly Death Penalty Produces Nothing in Return

Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell has signed 113 execution warrants during his two terms in office, yet it appears likely that he will leave office in a few months without seeing any of them carried out. Since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1978, only three men have been executed, all of whom had waived their appeals. Inadequate funding for criminal defense may be one of the primary reasons for this de facto moratorium. Since 1978, state and federal courts have overturned 124 death penalty cases on post-conviction review, mostly because of inadequate representation. (Other reasons cited include prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination in jury selection, and improper argument and jury instructions). When the cases are retried, almost all result in a life sentence. Robert Dunham, a federal defender, said, “So long as Pennsylvania systematically fails to adequately provide resources at trial, cases will be reversed [in] post-conviction.” Marc Bookman, founder of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Philadelphia, said “an ungodly amount of money” has been spent on the death penalty in the state. “[I]t’s an incredible waste of money,” he added. “We’re propping this thing up so that some of our leaders can claim to be tough on law and order.” Pennsylvania has the fourth largest death row in the country.

(M. Scolforo, “Pa. executions a rare occurrence,” Philadephia Inquirer, August 29, 2010). See Arbitrariness and Representation.