Statement of Timothy K. Lewis February 13, 2015
“I am a former assistant district attorney, assistant United States attorney, United States district court judge and United States circuit court judge. I was appointed a federal prosecutor by a Republican attorney general, and I was appointed to the federal bench twice by a Republican president. Since I left the bench, I have been Counsel at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, where I have remained active in ensuring the fair and effective enforcement of state and federal law and policy.
In December 2014, I was contacted by then Governor-elect Wolf’s transition team and asked to prepare an objective legal analysis of a Pennsylvania governor’s constitutional authority to impose a moratorium on the death penalty pending a thorough review of its administration. In January 2015, I submitted my analysis to the Governor-elect.
I concluded that Pennsylvania law requires the governor to issue execution warrants; that the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article IV, Section 9(a), gives the governor exclusive authority and wide discretion to grant reprieves; that this reprieve power is the only constitutional basis for instituting a moratorium; that the governor could not grant either standing or future reprieves; and that, accordingly, a Pennsylvania governor may implement a moratorium only by first issuing execution warrants and then granting reprieves.
In summary, I concluded that if a governor believed it would be in the interests of the Commonwealth to issue a moratorium by granting reprieves for the purpose of studying the fairness and effectiveness of the administration of the death penalty, this would be a proper exercise of his or her authority under the Pennsylvania Constitution.
This was my objective legal analysis. It was not informed in any way by my own views. But as a personal matter, I fully support Governor Wolf’s announcement today.
I do so as a former prosecutor who believes in the most severe punishment for the most heinous offenses. I do so as a former judge who presided over an execution and saw first-hand the many serious problems – institutional, economic, and human – with the enforcement of the death penalty. And I do so as a Pennsylvania citizen acutely aware that our resources should no longer be wasted on a system so broken.
At a minimum, we must take a step back to examine the effectiveness of a system fraught with racial disparity, constant reversals, and the infinite warehousing of prisoners who await a punishment that hasn’t been imposed in our State in 15 years – some of whom we know, based on exonerations here and elsewhere, may well be innocent.
A civilized society, effective law enforcement and the honor of our Commonwealth require no less.”