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October 10, 2007

Bar Association Commends ABA Report on PA Death Penalty System

The 13,000-member Philadelphia Bar Association commended a sweeping report issued Oct. 9 by the American Bar Association citing several areas in which Pennsylvania's death penalty system falters in affording capital defendants fair and accurate procedures.

"We commend Pennsylvania Death Penalty Assessment Team Chair Anne Bowen Poulin and the other Team members for a comprehensive and well-informed two-year examination of the Pennsylvania death penalty system highlighting numerous deficiencies that warrant critical examination," said Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Jane Leslie Dalton.

Noting that for 10 years the Philadelphia Bar Association has supported a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania until such time as the fair and impartial administration of the death penalty can be ensured and the risk that innocent persons may be executed is minimized, the Chancellor urged the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to devote all necessary resources to address the recommendations contained in the report.

The report from the ABA's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project targeted a number of areas for reform, including: inadequate procedures to protect the innocent; failure to protect against poor defense lawyering; no state funding of capital indigent defense services; inadequate access to experts and investigators; lack of data on death-eligible cases; significant limitations on post-conviction relief; significant capital juror confusion; and racial and geographical disparities in Pennsylvania's capital sentencing.

The report includes a detailed series of recommendations to improve Pennsylvania's death penalty proceedings to ensure fairness at all stages. They include requiring all law enforcement agencies to videotape or audiotape the entirety of custodial interrogations; mandatory lineup procedures that protect against false eyewitness identifications; and preserving all biological evidence for as long as the defendant remains incarcerated.

Noting that the majority of capital jurisdictions have not yet conducted comprehensive examinations of their death penalty systems, Dalton praised the ABA's review of Pennsylvania's death penalty system to preliminarily determine the extent to which it achieves fairness and provides due process.

In November 1997, the Philadelphia Bar Association joined the ABA and the Pennsylvania Bar Association in calling for a nationwide moratorium on executions until policies and procedures are implemented to ensure due process. The resolution cited "a substantial risk, in Philadelphia and elsewhere, that the death penalty continues to be imposed in an arbitrary, capricious and discriminatory manner."

The Chancellor reiterated the Philadelphia Bar Association's longstanding support for expert advice and assistance to counsel in death penalty matters. Prior resolutions adopted by the Association include a resolution supporting the creation of a Pennsylvania Capital Case Resource Center, and a resolution opposing any reduction in federal funding for capital case resource centers or post-conviction defender organizations.

Additionally, the Philadelphia Bar is on record against the imposition of capital punishment on juveniles and the mentally disabled, and has opposed the automatic issuance of execution warrants by the Governor if the Governor fails to act once a sentence of death has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Bar Association leaders have also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of a death penalty moratorium and the creation of a commission to study the death penalty.

The Chancellor lauded the contributions of the Philadelphia-based members of the Assessment team, including Professor Anne Bowen Poulin of the Villanova University School of Law (chair); Professor David Rudovsky, senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School; and Gregory P. Miller, founding shareholder of the law firm of Miller, Alfano & Raspanti, P.C.

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