REPRESENTATION: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Study Finds Death Penalty Compensation "Grossly Inadequate"

A study ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has found pay for court-appointed defense lawyers in death penalty cases in Philadelphia to be “grossly inadequate.” The study, which was authored by Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner, was initiated after defense lawyers petitioned the Court to increase the fees or halt death-penalty cases. The study noted there are fewer than 30 lawyers in Philadelphia willing to take capital-case appointments for indigent clients who meet the state qualifications. Philadelphia pays defense lawyers less than any other county in the state, giving lead counsel a flat fee of $2,000 to prepare a capital case, including the first half-day of trial. For the rest of a trial, a lawyer gets $200 for half days and $400 for full days. Judge Lerner said “The existing compensation system unacceptably increases the risk of ineffective assistance of counsel in individual cases and is primarily responsible for the First Judicial District’s growing inability to attract a sufficient number of qualified attorneys willing to accept court appointments in capital cases.” The study also noted that the lack of willing, qualified attorneys led to waits “that in too many cases, [have] delayed justice to the threshold of denial.” The report recommended that Philadelphia spend an additional $340,000 on capital-case attorneys, on top of the $200,000 spent in 2010.

(R. Moran, “Report calls pay for lawyers in Philly death-penalty cases ‘grossly inadequate,’” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 22, 2012.) See Representation and Studies.