An Appeal Court of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico recently held that it would be unconstitutional to extradite Juan Melendez Cruz to Pennsylvania if he faces a possible death sentence. The court referred to the issue as one involving the fundamental right to life. In July 2003, Philadelphia District Attorney spokeswoman Cathie Abookire confirmed that Melendez Cruz, a Puerto Rican native, could face the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Melendez Cruz’s attorney, Eileen Diaz, argued that extradition of her client under such circumstances is prohibited by the Puerto Rican constitution. The Attorney General of Puerto Rico plans to appeal the decision to the Puerto Rican Supreme Court. (Primera Hora, “Apelativo ratifica rechazo a pena capital: Extradicion sujeta a garantia de vida del reo,” October 21, 2005).

Puerto Rico abolished the death penalty in 1929. In 1952, when Puerto Rico drafted and ratified its own constitution, the Bill of Rights included the decree that “the death penalty shall not exist.” Because of Puerto Rico’s status as a Commonwealth of the United States, it is subject to some federal laws, and the U.S. has recently sought the death penalty on federal charges in a number of cases. However, no death sentences have resulted. Read additional information about Puerto Rico and the Death Penalty.