June 16, 2003
President Judge Announces Measures to Provide Counsel for Cap Case Indigent DefendantsAcknowledging the "continuing cooperation and support of the Philadelphia Bar Association," Philadelphia Common Pleas Court President Judge Frederica A. Massiah-Jackson today announced measures which will help ensure equal representation for convicted indigent defendants who are facing the death penalty. Under the new directives approved by the Common Pleas Board of Judges a new mitigation counsel program has been established providing set fees and initiating training requirements for court appointed mitigation attorneys. Mitigation counsel will argue on behalf of those facing the death penalty by detailing mitigating circumstances in response to aggravating circumstances presented by the prosecution. The President Judge also announced an increase in fees for court-appointed lead counsel in homicide cases. The changes are effective July 1.
"These new measures will help provide thorough representation for convicted defendants in capital cases, especially at the crucial penalty phase. These changes are in keeping with guidelines suggested by the American Bar Association and others," Judge Massiah-Jackson said. According to the President Judge about 40 to 60 homicide cases each year result in first degree murder convictions. These defendants then face a penalty hearing. Judge Massiah-Jackson thanked the Philadelphia Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section and the Board of Judges for helping to make the new measures a reality. "We've spent a long time considering how we might put these measures into effect and we benefited greatly from the input of judges and lawyers who work with these matters first-hand," she explained.
Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Audrey C. Talley commended the Court on the mitigation counsel program and the new counsel fees and thanked the President Judge for taking action. "If the term 'equal justice under law' is to have any meaning at all then we must be satisfied that those facing the ultimate penalty are receiving thorough representation. This is surely an important step in that direction and it should strengthen trust in our courts and our justice system," Talley commented. The Chancellor noted that the organized bar has frequently expressed its concern regarding the manner in which the death penalty is imposed. She pointed out that the American, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Bar Associations have all called for a moratorium on imposition of the death penalty "until such time that fairness in its administration can be ensured." Talley said "this is not about whether or not you favor the death penalty; this is about providing for the equal protection of the law under the Constitution."
Judge Massiah-Jackson estimated that the counsel fee changes and mitigation program will cost in excess of $200,000 annually. The money will come from a City Council appropriation which provided for court appointed counsel fees.