John Hanger, one of the Democratic candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania, announced his opposition to the death penalty at an event in Pittsburgh Thursday morning. Members of the Pittsburgh chapter of PADP were there to welcome the news.
Mr. Hanger’s remarks follow.
Plans for all Pennsylvanians:Â Replace the death penalty with life without parole
Eighteen states have replaced the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. States recently to do so include Maryland, Connecticut, New York, and New Mexico. I have concluded that Pennsylvania should also replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without any possibility of parole and would sign a bill that did so, as long as it contained no loopholes. Until the General Assembly passes such legislation, the death penalty will remain the law of Pennsylvania, and I will enforce it.
Those who commit premeditated murder must be punished and separated from society by imprisoning them in maximum security cells for the rest of their lives. There can be no rehabilitation or parole.
Appeal courts have overturned 100 death penalty sentences in Pennsylvania, and six death row inmates have subsequently been found innocent. The state has spent $25 million extra housing death row inmates since 1999, the year of the last execution. A sentence of life without any possibility of parole protects public safety, delivers severe punishment, cuts costs, reduces the exposure of the poor and minorities to unequal application of justice, and removes the risk of executing the innocent. It is an effective replacement for the death penalty.
The death penalty is flawed in three ways that cannot be corrected. First, the death penalty cannot be administered in a manner that will not risk executing the innocent. Second, the administration of the death penalty discriminates against the poor and minorities in ways that yield unequal justice and increases the risk of executing the innocent. Third, the death penalty is costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars now spent for operating death row, death penalty trials, and state and federal appeals, money that would be saved by a sentence of life without any possibility of parole.
While people always will disagree about the morality of executing the guilty, nobody should support the execution of the innocent. To execute the innocent would be a sin and a nightmare for the simple reason that death is different, as justices of the United States Supreme Court have said. Of all our criminal sanctions, only death is not reversible or correctable.
The death penalty requires 100% certainty, not merely “beyond a reasonable doubt. It requires infallibility, in not only some or most cases, but every single case. But a sentence of death can never be infallible in all cases, because the penalty is administered by fallible human beings who are prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses, jurors, and judges. Just in the last 30 years, at least six innocent people have been condemned to death in Pennsylvania and more than 140 nationally. Though we can be certain of the guilt in some or even many cases, we cannot be certain in all cases. The risk of executing the innocent never will go to what it must be–zero.
The death penalty is also unequal in its administration, because the wealthy will always be able to afford the best defense, including superb attorneys, investigators, and expert witnesses. The poor, however, often suffer from an inadequate defense that then leads to a conviction and years of litigation over the inadequacy of the defense. Moreover, the amount of money available to defend the indigent in capital cases even varies by county in Pennsylvania. 100 death penalty sentences have been overturned on appeal, and six people condemned to death were ultimately exonerated. Rehearing these cases adds additional costs to the criminal justice system.
Another source of unequal justice is racial discrimination. Unfortunately data shows the odds of a death penalty being imposed varies based on the race of the defendant and the victim. While African-Americans make up only 11.9 percent of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s population, they make up 41 percent of the inmates on death row. An America Bar Association review of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s administration of the death penalty found numerous shortcomings in the system including significant racial disparities in death penalty sentencing.
It costs $10,000 a year more to imprison a death row inmate than other prison inmates. There are about 200 prisoners on death row. The last execution in Pennsylvania was in 1999, and one prisoner has been on death row for more than 30 years. Since then Pennsylvania has spent an extra $25 million to incarcerate prisoners sentenced to death. The death penalty does not work, but it is costly.
Life without any possibility of parole removes the risk of executing the innocent and of unequal justice, will protect public safety and severely punish murderers, and save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. For these reasons, if passed by the General Assembly, I would sign a bill that makes the sentence of life without any possibility of parole for premeditated murder the law of Pennsylvania.