HARRISBURG – July 3, 2018 − State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) today commented on the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association’s biased response to the Joint State Government Commission’s report on capital punishment in Pennsylvania.
“Last week’s death penalty report was produced by a bipartisan advisory committee composed of supporters and opponents of the death penalty in equal share, and that was by design,” Leach said. “The task force that oversaw the advisory committee, made up of two supporters of the death penalty and two opponents of the death penalty, voted unanimously to approve the report for publication and endorsed the report’s credibility in a joint statement, noting the advisory committee’s ‘good-faith attempt to help us better understand our Commonwealth’s system of capital punishment.’”
“Pennsylvania’s district attorneys employ a potpourri of old, discredited arguments, red-herrings, and outright misrepresentations to undermine what I believe is one of the best and most comprehensive reports on capital punishment ever written. Sometimes, the facts just don’t support your argument. For the DAs, this is one of those times.”
The Joint State Government Commission is a non-partisan, bicameral research and policy development agency for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The Commission, upon authorization by statute or by simple or joint resolution, has the power to conduct investigations and study issues as directed by the General Assembly. Senate Resolution No. 6 (SR6), of the 2011-2012 legislative session, established this particular task force to conduct a study of capital punishment in Pennsylvania and report their findings and recommendations.
The Joint State Government Commission published its SR6 report on Monday, June 25, 2018. The District Attorneys published a response yesterday.
Also, earlier this morning the American Bar Association applauded the SR6 report and endorsed its credibility, findings and recommendations in a letter to the members of the SR6 Task Force, which is attached.
Nearly every argument made in the DAs’ response is misleading in some way. Following are just a sample of their misleading claims (in bold) and Leach’s rebuttals.
- “The Advisory Committee was made up largely of death penalty opponents.” (Page 2)
- The four SR6 Task Force members were Leach, State Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh), State Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) and State Senator John Rafferty (R-Montgomery). Leach and Greenleaf have historically opposed the State’s use of the death penalty, while Boscola and Rafferty have historically approved of its use.
- The four SR6 Task Force members voted unanimously to publish the death penalty report and jointly endorsed the report’s credibility.
- Attached is a complete list of the members of the SR6 Advisory Committee. This list consists of plenty of people who approve of the use of the death penalty and many who oppose its use, including 11 members from Prosecution, Law Enforcement and Victims’ Rights organizations, the sub group of the SR6 Advisory Committee with the most representatives.
- The report was authorized by a Republican Senate in the form of SR6.
- “Because there are significant differences of opinion and a variety of views on the issue, any publicly funded report on the issue should be a fair and objective analysis for elected officials and those charged with public policy to consider.” (Page 3)
- The report is fair and it is objective, unlike the District Attorneys’ response, which is clearly biased. The DAs, who are the only authors of their response, have made it clear that they do not want to abolish the death penalty.
- The District Attorney’s response is also publicly-funded.
- “The [findings of the SR6 report] are not new, and many of the sources cited have been cited time and time again.” (Page 3)
- When many independent sources reach the same conclusions time and time again over many years, it’s reasonable to conclude that the conclusions are credible. That’s how research works.
- “[The Kramer report] concluded that capital punishment in Pennsylvania is not disproportionately targeted against defendants of color…” (Page 4)
- The SR6 report acknowledged the Kramer report’s findings as well as its shortcomings, noting that it “was limited to examining cases resultant in convictions for murder of the first degree,” meaning that “the influence of race or ethnicity on the decision of charging the homicide or on whether to retract the motion to seek the death penalty in any case that did not result in a first-degree murder conviction was not studied.” (Page 4)
- “Ever criminal case has costs, from retail theft to rape, from DUI to child abuse, from bad checks to homicide. Nobody has suggested doing away with those criminal prosecutions.” (Page 10)
- This is simply untrue. For example, a 2010 Cato Institute study contemplated legalizing drugs as a way to prevent continuing the and disastrous, unending expenditure of tax dollars on the drug war because the costs don’t justify the benefits.
- Further, it’s a dereliction of our duty to taxpayers to ignore the costs of government programs when contemplating whether to implement or continue them.
- “The existence of the death penalty may in many circumstances reduce the costs to the criminal justice system.” (Page 10)
- The DAs frequently make this claim but never provide any citation, while the SR6 report’s section on the cost of the death penalty contains 231 separate citations.
- “The seemingly endless appeals they often file – extraordinarily long appeals which often raise any possible claim, whether legitimate or not – purposefully clog the system and make appeals as expensive as possible.” (Page 11)
- This appears to be an attack on due process, a Constitutional right that protects all Americans.
- Given that the state has to consider taking one’s life, the report recommends considering strengthen due process. For instance, a recommendation to consider intellectual disabilities prior to trial and the creation of a state-funding capital defenders office.
- “We would expect many of those death penalty abolitionists to shift their attention to trying to eliminate life without parole sentences.” (Page 11)
- This is an uncited claim that is meant to distract from the issue, and is also outside the scope of the task force’s mandate.
Leach has introduced a death penalty abolition bill five sessions in a row. His most recent bill to abolish the death penalty, Senate Bill 703, was introduced in May of 2017 and awaits a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The use of capital punishment is authorized by 31 states, the federal government and the United States military. Pennsylvania is one of those 31 states. Pennsylvania’s last involuntary execution was in 1962. Its last voluntary execution was in 1999.
Senator Daylin Leach represents the 17th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Montgomery County and Delaware County. He is also the Democratic Chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee. For more information visit www.senatorleach.com/newsroom.